Saturday, 7 March 2015

Being a planner when you don't know the plan.

In May 2014 we sat in huge auditorium listening to a man talking, with great humour, about Abraham and the conversation with his wife, Sarah, when God had told him to move his family.  Abraham had to explain to Sarah that they were moving, but had no idea where they were moving to.

I laughed and looked at my modern-day version of Abraham sat next to me.  I could relate to Sarah's horror at the prospect of packing up her home and her family and leaving without knowing which direction to take.  It was funny because I was married to a man who is also a dreamer and has huge faith.  It was funny because we were talking about someone else.

And then it happened to us.  

And suddenly I wished I had Sarah to talk with.

The year following on from our trip to India has been a whirlwind for us.  Hearts ruined, tears sobbed, questions asked and eventually lives laid down daily, we have wrestled with wasting our lives and finding purpose.  Last summer Jared was offered a job in Bangalore and we began to prepare our hearts, our boys and our family and friends for the prospect of our moving out there.  After finding a peace in my heart about taking our boys to such a huge unknown life change, the job offer was withdrawn and we were left confused and back to the start.

We had no idea what God was doing with us.  We clung to our trust in His plan and the promises He has given us.  Like Abraham, we knew there were changes ahead but we didn't know what they were.

Over Christmas we noticed a house for sale down the road with enough bedrooms for our family to live in but also for us to welcome other people into our family.  We weren't sure who this would be, but we knew we had dreamt about this.

Was this the next step?  It was beyond our price range.  But after viewing the house we decided to put our house on the market 'to see what would happen'.

Our house sold.  For above the asking price.  Within six days.

Perhaps this was the right direction, then.

We put in an offer on the big house, knowing we did not have the money to afford the mortgage.  Some may say we are crazy.  I would agree.  

It took six weeks for the owners of the house to accept our offer.  Six weeks of agonised waiting as our buyers were organising the purchase of our house.  It was more than frustrating but in that time of waiting, we were able to see more clearly what the house was going to be used for.  We began to see our dreams being realised at last.  Dreams that we had held for over 20 years.  In the waiting, we found purpose.  

This week we have had a meeting with people who may invest in our house, partnering with us to restore and love those broken by modern day slavery.  We continue to pray for God to provide.

And so we have found ourselves, like Sarah and Abraham, taking steps of faith without knowing what the next step will be.  We put our foot down tentatively, and then look for the next place to step.  We only know one step ahead.  When people ask us questions about it, we don't have all the answers.  Often we simply have to say 'I don't know'.  Because we truly don't.  

I don't know if Sarah was a planner but if she was she will have learnt, like I am learning, that sometimes the unknown is more exciting than any plan she could have made.  When fear of wasting my life silences the fear of the unknown, I can take those tiny steps of faith knowing that my God, the Master Planner, already has it all mapped out.

One day, when I meet Sarah, I will have a chuckle with her over our husbands.  I think we may have lots to discuss.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Hot Chocolate Loving

We've had an intentional 'give the boys some one on one time' day today.  It's been such a busy month and they are so fab at going with the flow and putting up with the demands of our life, but we felt it was about time to give them something back.  

So, I found myself in a cafe drinking hot chocolate with my favourite ten year old.

Wanting to make the most of the moment, I quizzed him about what he felt his strengths were.  Giggling at the thought of talking himself up, he settled on his top strength.

Being different.

'I like being different,' he explained. 'Some people try to be like everyone else and they try to be cool but when you are just being yourself then you are cool anyway.'

I glowed inside with his wisdom.  I love the fact that he is different too.  

Then he surprised me.

'Come on then, Mum.  What are you good at?'

Oh, I wasn't there to talk about me.  I was there to give him a boost and chat about his world.  His question threw me.

'Well, I'm not sure.  I guess I'm good at cooking.' I answered, a bit feebly.

And then he looked at me, his hot chocolate moustaching around his mouth and his eyes twinkling as he interrupted my ramblings about cooking.  

'I think you're beautiful.  That's what's good about you.'

This boy who has caused me so many sleepless nights and given me so many reasons to cry, completely stumped me with his unintentional love.

And he carried on.

'And I love it that you don't stick to the rules.  You stick to the good ones, but not the bad ones.  And that makes you beautiful too.'

I was speechless.  I had no idea where this depth had come from in my little boy who is growing up to have such a big heart.

Oh yes, hot chocolate was a great idea today.  This boy who hates love and romance and valentines and girls and leaves the room when we kiss is developing into a young man who loves naturally and with all of his heart.

His heart, by the way, belongs to me at the moment.  One day I'll have to give it away but at the moment I'm making the most of cherishing it and watching it grow.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Fifty Shades of Terror

I have resisted as long as possible, but I cannot stand by silently whilst everyone else enjoys the 'harmless' fun of this film.

Fifty Shades.

This weekend the news will be full of it.  According to the BBC news website London Fire Brigade are even on standby because of concerns about people being trapped in handcuffs. 

And yet, every day around the world women and girls are exploited, abused, dominated and controlled by men such as Christian Grey.  Charming on the outside and terrifyingly evil behind closed doors, these men are warped and twisted by their passion for selfish and self-gratifying sex that knows no love or tenderness. 

Does the term 'mummy porn' make it more palatable?  Seriously?  Should 'mummies' be okay with this?  Would 'mummies' be happy if it was their daughter being exploited by such a man? 

Across the world every day paedophiles from our country (yep - England) are hiring the services of young girls in karaoke bars, brothels, massage parlours and even from street corners.  Have these girls chosen to work in such places?  Of course not.  Stolen from their homes and sometimes sold by their families, they are raped twenty or more times each night by the 'Christian Greys' of this world.  In the UK alone, one phone call every minute is made to the police (Stanko 2000) by women desperate for help because they are being abused by a 'Christian Grey'.  Domestic abuse is about power and control not about the bright lights and dazzling glamour of the alluring paedophile or rapist. It's simply unjust.

And porn fuels this injustice.  Without a doubt, porn (even so-called 'mummy porn') twists a person's view of sex.  It is the petrol behind the terrible, degrading, evil bomb of sexual violence.    And violence is what it is.  Not love.  Not cherishing.  Not 'fun'.  Try explaining to a 10 year old girl locked in a cage on the streets of Mumbai and only let out when there is a paedophile / customer waiting to rape her for 20p that this is 'fun'.  Or perhaps you could laugh along with the lady who is regularly beaten by the husband who plays mind control tricks on her like moving the food around in the cupboards or throwing away the bread when she was certain she'd bought some at the shops.

I don't care how glamorous Christian Grey is or how much of a fa├žade of riches and beauty is pasted over it, Fifty Shades of Grey is not only offensive towards women, but downright dangerous.  This is not harmless fun.  And yet women are the ones supporting it.

Come on Ladies, open your eyes to the truth behind the film. 

See the message that is barely hidden. 

Don't celebrate the abuser but stand for the women around the world who face these degrading battles every day and every night. 

Be their voice when they have nothing left but a silent whisper for help. 

Be women who uphold justice and mercy. 

This is black and white.  There are no grey areas here.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The Truth Behind the Facebook Posts

I love honesty.  I appreciate authentic friendships.  I'm not one for small talk or superficiality.  Sometimes this gets me into trouble (my mum always used to say 'think before you speak' and I can still hear her whispering it in my ear on the odd occasion!).  

But social media sites are full of people pretending to be something 'better'.  We all fall into the trap.

Take this photo, for example.  Posted by me this week, it has had lots of 'likes' and comments.  It must look like we are having a whale of a time preparing for judo.

But the reality behind the fake smiles ("come on boys, smile and show Dad your new yellow belts") was that half an hour before this was taken we were all crying.  A smashed glass full of water all over the kitchen floor, a cut and bleeding finger, fighting boys, a Dad away for the week and a quick 'turnaround teatime' before judo led to my exploding at the boys like a mentos mint in a coke bottle. It was, quite seriously, one of the worst evenings we have had for a very long time.  

I was shocked by the amount of 'likes'.  How could that happen when our eyes were sore and puffy from crying?  Wasn't it obvious?

And I realised that not only was it not obvious, but it was also possible to live out a totally different life and nobody would ever know.  This gave me the heebyjeebies.  

It also made me even more resolved to pursue genuine friendships with those close to me.  I value vulnerability and honesty in my friends.  I don't want to try and keep up with the Joneses or pretend to be something I'm not and I don't want my friends to feel they can't be real either.  I may not splash all my woes across Facebook (that gets a bit boring) but I so appreciate being able to send a quick text to my close friends when life gets tough.  I know they will stand with me, sometimes holding me up.  I need them and they need me.  And I love that we support and encourage each other.

So, next time I am tempted to post an all singing, all dancing version of my amazing family (and they ARE amazing and we DO sing and dance around the kitchen quite often) I am going to remember this photograph and how uneasy it made me feel.  And I will remember that being honest is more important than being fake.

Who wants a fake family anyway?  Not me.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

What 'get dressed and clean your teeth' really means.

It's a regular occurrence in our house.  

When I say 'get dressed and clean your teeth', somehow this is translated into several different meanings in boy language.

So far, these are the translations I have observed:

'Go and find a nerf gun and shoot your brothers.'

'Do some balloon modelling.'

'Roll around on the floor, making farting noises.'

'Create new magic tricks.'

'Run in and out of your brother's bedroom to annoy him.'

'Hide and jump out on your brother to scare him.'

'Play loud music and dance around with no clothes on.'

'Suddenly remember you need to practice your guitar.'

'Study the world map on your bedroom wall.'

'Wee on the bathroom floor after realising it has been dry for far too long and may need watering.'

'Draw on your face.'

'Sit on your bedroom floor, whistling and staring vacantly.'

'Bang bedroom doors.'

'Stand outside the bathroom while your brother is doing a poo and make grunting and groaning noises in empathy.'

'Slide down the stairs in sleeping bags.'

One day I may manage to speak their language but for now I usually communicate with sign language.  

What translations have you discovered?

Friday, 16 January 2015

Shout Louder

There's a lot of shouting that goes on in my house.  Shouting from one room to the other (my pet hate), shouting in anger, shouting in celebration and the shouting of 'STOP SHOUTING' (I admit, that's my own ridiculous phrase).  It's a noisy place and sometimes I plead with them, and even bribe them, into being quiet.

I read about a man who shouted this week.  His name was Bartimaeus and he lived on the streets on the outskirts of Jericho.  Blinded when he was younger and without the NHS or Social Services to support him, he was reduced to living the hopeless life of a beggar.  Every day people walked past him and listened to his calls for help and every day they tossed a few coins into his hands.  But this wasn't the life Bartimaeus wanted to live.  He knew there must be more to life than this.

One day he heard a big crowd of dusty feet and chattering voices making their way into the city of Jericho. 

"What's going on?"  He called out.

"It's Jesus!  He's going to Jericho!"  The crowd replied.

Bartimaeus had heard of this Jesus.  He heard all sorts of things sitting along the side of the road, and word had travelled about all the healings and miracles Jesus had performed.  He'd even heard that Jesus didn't mind who he spoke to or touched!  Suddenly, inside, he felt hope taking hold of him.  He had to speak to Jesus.

"Jesus!"  He shouted.  "Help me!"

The crowd of people turned to Bartimaeus and hushed him.

"Shhhh," they called to him, "Don't disturb Jesus now.  He's on his way to important work in Jericho.  Be quiet!"

Bartimaeus was used to being treated like this.  People were quite happy to throw him some coins to appease their conscience, but they didn't want to have to actually speak to him.  He knew he was dirty and he could even smell himself.  He spent enough time sitting and pondering his life to know that he was not someone people wanted to associate with.  But he'd heard different things about this Jesus.  No, he wasn't going to shrink into the background anymore.  This was perhaps his only chance.  He took a deep breath of courage and shouted even louder.

"Jesus!  Help me!"

This time his shouts reached the ears of Jesus and he asked the crowd to bring Bartimaeus to him.  Bartimaeus found himself in the arms of those who had just told him to be quiet.  It was a long time since anyone had touched him.  He trembled.  He had no idea what would happen next.

"What do you want me to do for you?"  Jesus asked him.

What?  Wasn't it obvious? 

Standing in front of the one who could change his life, Bartimaeus dared to tell Jesus exactly what he wanted.

"I want to see again."  He could barely make out the words. 

"Then, see!"  Jesus said.  "Your faith has healed you."

Bartimaeus opened his eyes and looked into the face of his Saviour.  Slowly his smile grew across his face and, as tears fell from his newly opened eyes, he decided there and then to follow this Jesus.  He had saved his life.

Bartimaeus was one courageous man.  He held on to hope and even when it was crushed, he shouted even louder.

Have you been told to be quiet?  Shout louder. 
Have you had your dreams crushed?  Shout louder. 
Are there things you would dare to ask Jesus if you could just speak to him?  Shout louder. 
Do you wonder if Jesus would ever associate with you?  Shout louder.
Have you been praying and asking for the same things for a long time?  Shout louder.
Are you facing impossible circumstances?  Shout louder.

Don't give up.

Jesus wants us to come to him and to ask him for the things he has put in our hearts, however impossible they seem to us.  Prayer is not a quiet, polite experience to make us feel good about ourselves, rather it is a weapon of warfare that moves God's hand and changes situations in the spiritual realms and in the world around us. 

I want to see God's kingdom of peace, joy, right-living, love and wholeness in our world today and I this year I am going to shout louder and shout harder.  I'm going to follow Bartimaeus's example and get myself to the ears of the one for whom nothing is impossible. 

Want to join me?

Friday, 2 January 2015

When dreams make us vulnerable

I may have mentioned this before, but I'm married to a dreamer.  My husband is one of those 'ten thousand ideas before breakfast' people.  He has new businesses, inventions, creative solutions to difficult problems, ideas of people to network with and ways to be a hero pulsating through his brain non-stop.  New Year is a perfect example of his well-intentioned dreaming.  One year he wrote down no less than 27 goals for the year.  Sometimes I roll my eyes at him and bring some reality ("No, I'm sorry, but you are not going to be able to meet the President today") but on the odd occasion, I allow myself to dream with him.

We're good at dreaming together.  It's even more exciting when we start to push on doors to see if our dreams can become a reality.  

But when we start to investigate our dreams, we become vulnerable.  In talking to people about our dreams and hearing their responses we feel like we are laying bare our hearts before them and asking them to understand us.  And they often don't.  Sometimes our dreams are trampled across with well-meaning reality.

A lifetime ago our wedding invitations were, very aptly, adorned with this quote from W.B Yeats' poem 'He wishes for the cloths of heaven':

I have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Our dreams won't always become a reality.  They may take us in different directions which others don't quite understand.  They might cause us to make unusual decisions.  They sometimes make us look crazy.  We might live life with different priorities to other people.  We might parent our children in different ways because of them.  They make us vulnerable to ridicule.

But if we spread our dreams under your feet and lay our hearts bare before you, please tread softly because our dreams are fragile, precious and God-given and we need you to hold our hands as we tiptoe across and journey into them.