I don’t understand

So, what have Jack the Ripper, weight, mass, velocity, aboriginal art, tadpoles, trellis, soft furnishings, origins of the word ‘Blazer’, peonies and politics got in common??? Not sure, except that I’ve had to have discussions and try to answer questions about all of them so far this week, and more. We have children who ‘need to know’ all sorts of things, they want to understand, sometimes it feels as though they have never grown through the ‘why?’ phase.

Some of the questions spark from homework – I’m extremely thankful for the balance brought by Jack the Ripper alongside aboriginal art this week! But most simply come from things seen, heard, encountered. Nurturing an environment at home where faith is part of everyday life means of course that the questions and discussions are also about that too, which in a way is really encouraging – it means they are seeing, hearing and encountering it. My week began with a real humdinger of a question – ‘how can I make sense of God when I read the stories about wiping out whole people groups in God’s name in the Old Testament Mum?’. To make a change it came in the midst of the rush to get ready for school rather than last thing at night before bed, but even so – a real tough one – thanks A!

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Image from ‘The Graphic Bible’ J Anderson & M Maddox

In that moment I think I remember expressing what a tough and real question it was, and how many other questions it gives us. I think I remember suggesting it’s not the only picture of God that we have even in the Old Testament – Jericho and the peaceful walking around the walls (though admittedly still a story of conquest which becomes less peaceful quite rapidly), Gideon and how God asked him to keep reducing his army, the story of the broken jars and the lights causing panic (Judges 8), Jonah being so disgruntled when God forgave rather than punished. And I definitely finished that short moment of discussion by introducing the idea that Jesus is the lens to understanding God – how Jesus himself said ‘If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father’ (Jn 14:9), that we can’t separate the two. We both agreed that Jesus’ life showed us things in a different light.

We’ve not found a moment to pick it up again yet, but it will come. And in the meantime I’ve been pondering and wrestling (probably much like A has) what do I think? How can I explore that with A? What’s the best approach?

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Despite the years of theological study it’s a tough one, there isn’t one clear answer that a majority of scholars agree with and the approaches that they take are varied. Some explore and discuss from a social history perspective, how what we know of ancient cultures contemporary to early Israel lived, helps us interpret the biblical accounts. For some this gets done in the light of archaeological evidence from sites of the cities in 20170519_134922Canaan for example. Others take a literary perspective wanting to explore which bits of which biblical book probably have a similar source, how the accounts may have been passed down and then written and how that process might shape our understanding of the events behind the accounts. Different literary approaches might focus on the ‘why’ of the writing, and in the comparison between Israel’s way of recording it’s history and other cultures or people groups’ recorded history to see what defines it and shapes it, what makes it different? Some focus really closely in on the linguistic analysis of particular key words or phrases, asking how they have been translated, was there a cultural nuance in the original language that’s missed in translation, and how could we know that? Some in contrast focus on the ‘Big Picture’, asking what do these accounts mean if we see them in the context of the whole sweeping story of salvation – the story of God and his people? and of course there are different perceptions of what that story itself is, and different aspects of it that can be focused in on… and each of these approaches and questions can lead to different conclusions of course.

Was the history written down as it happened, very humanly, but with people justifying their actions by couching it with ‘God says…’? Did God say these events had to be this way to show us something about ourselves or him without which we would not be ready for Jesus? Are they there to teach us about purity, justice, holiness, God’s jealous love for us because there was no other way for us to learn those things?? Do these accounts of war and killing show us human imperfection in the midst of a story which has a focus on love and self-sacrifice?

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When I pick up the conversation with A again, I probably won’t keep the complexity from him. He’s a deep thinker, and we try as parents not to gloss over or ignore the big questions however hard they are, and however daunted we feel going into those conversations. Equally I probably won’t go through each different school of thought in huge amounts of detail unless he shows an interest and a million other questions follow on! I’m imagining I will ask him as many questions as he asks me… what does he know about God that these stories seem difficult to match up with? what is it that’s a puzzle? where else could we look in the bible that might help us understand, or see it differently? what have we experienced of God, what do we know him to be like because of that? Do we always understand everything about him? If not I wonder why not?

Whenever these tough questions come up I remind myself that my kids are not content with superficial, smoothed over answers, and neither am I probably – though I’m tempted sometimes. Which leaves us in that uncomfortable place of unknowing and the difficult task of learning to live in that without clear cut, definitive answers for everything. But I hope that in creating a safe space for these questions to be asked & heard, and to be wrestled with that we draw ourselves and our kids to the heart of that safe space that we pray into our family life, we draw them into God’s presence, into the presence of the one who does understand all things and still loves us. I hope that by giving space for the wrestling rather than telling A my opinion as if it’s the only one will also model a pattern of growing in faith through the tough questions without being afraid of them.

sensory for rainy days

Whatever the weather we need regular sensory rich input in this family, especially when things are busy or there have been some particularly stressful events. Tonight on my way home from Rainbows with T it became very clear that more was needed – a 15 min walk took 30, it was raining and the feel of the water, the way you could collect water drops off the ends of umbrella spokes, the splash of puddles became utterly engrossing… it would have taken more like an hour if I hadn’t been nagging all the way home! It reminded me of B at a similar age, walks home from school on wet days were epic, and she would be so wet by the end we would need to wring her out! Wet through every layer of clothes, wellington boots full.

There isn’t always time for being out on rainy days, and sometimes it is too cold for it to be ok for them to get that wet outside. Here are some of my favourite sensory rich rainy day activities:

  • cornflour slime – so simple, and absolutely always a winner. Put cornflour into a bowl (fun in large or small) and add just enough water for it to be quite hard to get a spoon through, but gooey enough for it to slowly drip off the spoon when you hold it above the bowl. Apron on if there’s time, then simply give to the child… can provide food colouring to mix in – the mixing takes a lot of effort and so is remarkably calming, can provide extra bowls or plates, plastic spoons, knives & forks. Can add scent from food flavourings. Expect some mess, but leave it to dry afterwards and then it can easily be swept up. Don’t try to put it down the drain afterwards, again let it sit & dry out a little, then it can go into the bin

     

  • Painting not for the fainthearted but utterly brilliant! Most importantly choose a place which is easy enough to clean afterwards – if this is to be of use as a sensory input activity it has to be hands on & that is messy. Also have paper supplies at hand – as soon as one is finished I want to have a clean sheet seamlessly put in front of them, or the ‘in full flow’ painting just happens onto something else! When they 025_01were very small I laid paper on the kitchen floor on top of a large messy mat or newspaper and put ice-cream tub size pots with some (not a lot) paint in there on the floor too. Strip the child down to the nappy, place in the centre, and enjoy! The only job to do is to be ready to keep steering them back onto the paper, and to judge that perfect moment to end the activity. Andrew & I had a routine for the ending of this particular activity – it was warranted, it is very messy – he would run a bath when I placed B on the paper, and have it ready so I could pick her up and go straight there with her when we finished (at arms length if possible!).
  • Daytime baths are contained (on the whole), and easy to organise. We have a whole box of toys suitable to go in the bath but mine are equally happy with measuring spoons, plastic jugs, whisks, empty bottles and will pour, empty and fill for some time. Bubbles in the bath are a change – though with eczema aren’t helpful, we have also used blowing bubbles while in the bath which has worked but was tricky in that it was very exciting and so it was difficult to keep them sitting safely in the bath. Many dolls can be washed in the bath, barbies can go swimming, lego boats & houses on stilts are fun, and plastic toy animals are great too.
  • Cooking either real baking (which has the advantage of being edible, lick-out-able) or the indoor equivalent of potion making or mud pies with a few rationed basic ingredients like flour, semolina, rice etc. and some cake cases in a tin – to be honest it’s been a while since we encouraged that, T is very happy with the tub of baking beans and cake cases which is far less mess & waste.
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early baking with Nanny

  • sensory tray – an idea that came out of desperation I think, but we have a fairly deep sided large-ish wooden tray, and when B was little couscous rice, and lentils would get poured into it. sometimes she sat in it and enjoyed the feel of it on bare feet and hands. Other times I put cars or plastic animals in, or big spoons for scooping, or plastic garden tools which made good patterns and noises against the grains as well as scooping.
  • playdough goes without saying, it is great for calming, ordering, creative play. When you make your own playdough you can colour as you want, or can add scent, or even glitter. I use the cooked playdough method mostly (which is incidently good stress relief for me too, requiring plenty of hard going stirring as it heats), and when it has cooled enough the kids love kneading it till it’s glossy – it’s cosy warm and pliable.
  • 2015-12-07 23.04.49making sensory jars to use in a calming down space or that will fit into a handbag to come out & about with us is a lovely activity in itself. The treasure hunting for things to hide in it, the funnel and pouring of sand and glitter and the designing of the labels and ‘I Spy’ tag.
  • washing up – only carefully selected items not the whole family’s dishes after a meal, and with eczema not very often either! But it is well loved, and has a social element which many of the others don’t need to. This does need someone involved to dry up and keep the supply of safe items to wash.
  • marbles another quite by accident discovery when B was small, we found that marbles spin gently around a large wooden plate we have, making a beautiful noise, and satisfyingly gradually making their way to the centre. We have a marble run too, which is much noisier (a much more rattling noise) but sometimes that is just the thing.

What else do you find yourself reaching for? What do yours find calming & enriching?

 

THE goodnight prayer!

We have always tried to pray with our 3 before bed, right from the beginning, and have gradually encouraged them to join in and pray out loud too. Quite early on we discovered the need for a definite ending prayer that would unequivocally signal the end of prayer and the need to settle down to sleep. And so it came about that THE goodnight prayer came into being, a rather jumbled paraphrase of the blessing in Numbers… the first time we used it was from memory and from then on it has had to be the same!

“‘“The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
 the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
 the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.”’

(Numbers 6:24-26 NIV)

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“The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you, lift up the light of his countenance upon you, and give you His peace” – our rather imperfect version!

We found that when she was young B developed an elaborate set way of praying which did not change in structure, though over the years new names have been added in. It ended in her own unique way ‘… look after the whole world, the whole universe and you God. Amen. Now the goodnight prayer Mummy/Daddy…’

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Similarly with A prayer took on a structured pattern early on. The pattern has changed, and has been shaped by trying new ways of praying, and new questions to ask as we pray together. Most recently it has been influenced by the Ignation Examen idea of reflecting on the blessings of the day and recognizing God’s presence throughout the day.

With T we have she hasn’t easily adopted the goodnight prayer we use with the other 2. In fact on the whole she is rather resistant to praying before sleep! There are plenty of other times in the day when this isn’t the case so it’s not felt like a panic, but there is something significant, important about praying over them just before sleep, handing them over to God’s care while they rest. Also bedtime is the time for anxieties and stresses to get in the way of rest – prayer is vital, and I would love it if we found a way to help her to join in.

‘I can lie down and sleep soundly because you, Lord, will keep me safe.’

(Psalm 4:8 CEV)

We had a difficult time getting T to sleep again last night. There were real and paralyzing worries about dying and never seeing Panda & Pandy again, or me dying or of me left behind if she dies. We needed to pray out loud together and find the peace and reassurance God can give. And it suddenly came to me (I’m sure because we had spent the weekend with my Mum, and it had stirred in my subconscious) that she would relate to the goodnight prayer of my childhood, that my Mum or Dad would sing to me, or with me before sleep. She loves songs – it’s how she naturally talks to God such a lot of the time. So I asked if I could sing the goodnight prayer I always had at bedtime when I was little, when I was upset or scared. She agreed! So then I had to sing – it came flooding back as clear as if I was a child again, as I held her and prayed over her for God’s peace and protection. She liked it so much I think I sang it through about ten times! We may have found her goodnight prayer!

Lord keep me safe this night,

secure from all my fears.

May angels guard me as I sleep

till morning light appears.

How do you pray at bedtime? Is there a special goodnight prayer you use?

Review: Comfort in the Darkness

Rachel Turner’s book ‘Comfort in the Darkness’ is a series of devotional bible stories of people connecting with God, encountering him, in the night. Each is written as a narrative perfect for reading aloud, short enough for tiny attention spans and tired minds, and long enough to intrigue and invite.

I have read with T (6 yrs) & with B (15yrs), and both have enjoyed them and have engaged with the stories in different ways. They have prompted questions sometimes, discussion and sharing our own experiences of sensing God’s closeness.

“If your child asks a tough question that you can’t answer, feel free to say, ‘I don’t know. let’s find out together.’ … Enjoy your child’s curiosity about the things of God. It is one of the great and wonderful privileges we have – wading into the tough questions with our children, with no fear.” (p49)

B has been open to using the prayer after the stories. With T, I have been able to let our chat lead into moments of asking God to draw close, and a couple of times led to windows of quiet waiting together in God’s presence.

After each story are suggestions for discussion starters, and also prompts to help you enable your child to draw close to God. There are ‘parenting for faith’ sections at the end of each chapter too, with helpful reflections on the issues arising in the story, or practical ideas.

I am sure we will read through these many times in the years to come, and I think the reflections, suggestions and resources built into the book for me as a parent coming alongside my child as they grow in faith will mean that each time we come back we will listen and engage in a new way. I can imagine that each time we read we will build on knowledge and skills, and experiences of God from the previous time.

“We can model our trust in God’s ability to be present in dreams. We can help our children to understand that there are no limits to where God can go … Invite God to be part of their dreams…” (p96)

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I was particularly struck by this paragraph in the first story when I was reading aloud:

“The word of God can make all things happen, and with a few words he began his great creation. ‘Let there be light,’ God said. …

But God made a choice. He kept darkness, too. He saved it and protected it. He could have got rid of it altogether, but there was something about darkness that was important and special … He called the light ‘day’ and the dark he called ‘night’. He had great plans for both.” (p12)

I have become so used to night being associated with worry and stress, sleeplessness and the pressure to sleep that it has become quite a negative word I suppose. But here was an invitation to recollect that God treasures the night as much as he treasures the day. To see that God had plans for the night – and as we continued to read bedtime after bedtime it was clear that so many of the times God provided, rescued, guided, challenged and encouraged happened in the night.

Night as a set aside, retreat time with God is not the way I have been thinking of bedtimes, and has certainly not been the message I have been modelling to my children. So I have been challenged – in a good way, and feel I have been given some tools and pointers to change my thinking and my expectations about night! That has to be a good thing!

Isn’t it a wonderful thing that God wants to chat with us, and draw near to us … even (or perhaps especially) in the rather challenging nights (that don’t exactly feel retreat like) when it seems none of us can get much rest or peace. With ASD, anxiety, night terrors, bad backs, eczema and long term sleep deprivation nights are anything but sleep-filled in our house – but maybe they have been God-filled all along, I just needed a nudge to begin to see that more clearly.

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it’s not fair

One of our chickens died on Palm Sunday. Milky Way was friendly, came to see us whenever we went out in the garden. She let us stroke her, and didn’t even mind being picked up. The other chickens don’t seem to be concerned at all, but we miss her, T especially.

‘why did she have to die Mummy?’ ‘why did her body stop working properly?’ ‘why did she die?’ ‘why couldn’t we make her better?’ ‘it’s not fair’ ‘why did it have to be Milky Way, she’s the friendly one?’ ‘why did it happen?’ ‘it’s made me too sad’ ‘why can’t I stop crying?’ ‘why did she die now Mummy?’ ‘will I ever stop crying?’ ‘it’s not fair’ ‘why couldn’t you stop it?’ ‘why did she die?’…

The sobbing and questions have been intense, and for the first couple of days nearly relentless. All I could do was hold her and reassure her that sadness and crying are one of the normal human ways of reacting when a person or a pet dies. We talked together about how happy and content she had been in the last few days, how she had been safe and had everything she needed; how she had just peacefully rested, and had died while she was asleep. I reassured her over and over that she wouldn’t cry forever, she would probably also remember good happy memories of her playing with Milky Way that would make her smile while she remembered them and that would be okay too.

‘Why did God think it was the right time for her to die?’ ‘why did God think she needed a really long rest?’ ‘did God forget that she was my friendly chicken?’

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I agreed: ‘it doesn’t feel fair does it, but I know God loves everything he’s made. He knows and loves Milky Way and because he loves her he will have done what she needed the most, what is best even if that doesn’t feel fair to us.’

This week we are travelling to my Mum’s for my Granny’s funeral. She died peacefully before Easter. I am fully expecting some of the same questions, though at the moment it is a very matter of fact response. But we didn’t see Great Granny B everyday, it may well be that at the times when we all get together as extended family it will hit us hard when she is not there too.

I have put together a social story about the funeral. If it’s useful please download here. I am going to cut each strip out, and put the story in order with T which will give us a chance to read the story and talk about each part. We can then glue it onto coloured paper, hole punch and tie with a ribbon and she can bring it with her. We have also found pictures of the church online and looked at where it is, and what it will look like. I have the basic order of service and know which songs we are singing and who is doing which parts. My Mum has asked the children to draw a picture of Great Granny B to bring with them, which has made us talk about lovely memories of time together with her. And of course we have planned what they will all feel comfortable wearing.

As usual I will have a ‘bag of tricks’ with me. Plenty of fiddle toys, calming sensory toys, and some small play sets (I have two boxes of little toys & small sized books that are really only played with when we are away from the house. It really helps that they are ‘new’ when I bring them out!) a cuddly, and one of the really familiar favourites. Snacks and drinks can come along too.

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The lovely Great Granny B 1921 – 2017