is selfcare selfish?

So, it’s been a pretty full on week in the Porter household. GCSE exams began in earnest – a full timetable this week, and study leave starting on Monday; Paediatrician appointment for T (and all the next steps admin to do afterwards!); dentist for B,A & T; Thy Kingdom Come prayer room to set up at church… etc, etc. Plus of course the little extras  like a grit-filled grazed knee (never easy with sensory processing difficulties).

Needless to say I woke up this morning feeling pretty rotten really. Tired, weary, and my body feeling stressed through and through.

I am learning as I get older (prob not wiser!) that mornings like that are a sign I need some time out and some head-space. Thankfully it’s been a flexible enough day for that to happen really easily and I’ve been pottering in the garden – while the kids are at school. But it is difficult not to feel guilty!

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Andrew doesn’t get the same chance, so here I am pottering in the sunshine while he is busy finishing prep for Sunday, and taking a few forgotten items down to church for the prayer room. And later, when we’re all back in he’ll be the one cooking dinner – and highly likely clearing up afterwards too! The house around me is in a serious mess as always (I hold on tight to the saying ‘a tidy house is a sign of a wasted life’!!), and the loos need cleaning, clothes need washing, bed covers need changing – and I’ve already pulled back from some of the busy things of the week to try and prevent this feeling – and all I can think right now is just how desperately I need some space, some less intense, down-time before school finishes and it all gets going again. Health professionals, friends, the TV all tell me self-care is important… but what does it mean as a Christian? I was brought up on verses like these, and the example of wonderfully busy, always-helping-people parents:

 ..don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work. (MSG Colossians 3:23)

Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor 15:58 NIV)

Isn’t self-care giving up, failing to meet these high standards?? Not being strong enough, good enough, enough?? Is self-care selfish?? It’s true, I sit here wishing I were stronger, more capable, that my body was more resilient and didn’t get so overwhelmed by anxiety symptoms so very often! But actually that is the body and mind I get to work with, that is my gift from God and it’s vulnerable, fragile, and real at the same time as being thoughtful, creative, tenacious. I simply cannot do more, and on days like these stopping for a bit is necessary if I am to stay well enough to be of any use to my family let alone anyone else, but is that an okay thing to think as a Christian?

As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field… (Psalm 103:13-15 NIV)

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I don’t know the answer – if there is one! But I do know I am a child of a Father full of compassion who knows better than I do just how my body works and keeps going, who knows how my mind, my emotions and body all hold together and who loves me. The same Father who gave us a rest day as a pattern for good living. The same who took Elijah to the stream and let him sleep when he felt he couldn’t go on, then fed him, and let him sleep some more. Maybe instead of self-care I could do with rephrasing what’s essentially needed on days like this – not self-care, rather Daddy daughter time… time to rest, sleep, eat under his watchful eye, and allow him to care for me before sending me back to it (13 mins till I set off for pick up!) keeping close enough to sit me down again when I next need a breather. It’s possible I could live with that!

 

 

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shifting sand

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The seasons change as surely as the tide comes in.

A new term begins.

New adventures, new challenges. Back to a different pace and different demands on our time. Groups begin again, homework will loom, clubs after school all fitted around vicarage life and ministry again as that too changes gear for term time. Just like being at the water’s edge as it comes in some of us rush in wanting the excitement of the sudden cold wave crashing over our feet and some rush in and then jump back as each wave hits; others hang back wishing we could face the inevitable a little more gradually, feeling a little more in control! I guess most of us fluctuate between the options…

Standing in the edge of the waves as they come in lets you feel their unsettling tug, shifting the pebbles and sand under your toes as it pushes and pulls. With each back and forth they are lifted and adjusted, re settled into new arrangements and places. Change is unsettling, unpredictable. It’s the beginning of movement towards the unknown.

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Change also reveals what is constant, what is trustworthy. In the anxiety and stress of change we reach out for something steady and safe to hold onto, and some things we try to rely on wobble and others prove safe and strong. I love the paradox of the verse in lamentations. God’s love is both forever new and forever constant, faithful. It is in the ebb and flow of the change as we follow after his call, and yet is the solid, steady safe fixed point we can cling to.

B & I have begun using the ‘she reads truth’ app at bedtimes. We have been reading about God’s permanence in a changing, shifting existence. Tonight we were prompted to remember together that no matter what out circumstances or feelings, God’s word, God-truth is fixed… through every page of the Bible we hear God’s mercy-full ‘I Love you, I am coming to you’. It remains. It’s trustworthy. We can cling to it as things shift beneath our feet.

This is the way God put it: “They found grace out in the desert, these people who survived the killing. Israel, out looking for a place to rest, met God out looking for them!” God told them, “I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love! (Jer 31:3 MSG)

I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. (Jer 31:3 NRSV)

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present in the moment

I’m tired! Nothing new, I know.

But Monday was still sunny and T wanted to play in the garden, with the bat and ball. For a while I threw, she missed then picked the ball and batted it back in my direction (mostly!), then of course I ‘ran’, fetched the ball and we did it all again.

After a short while I sat down on the grass while T fetched the ball for once. She came over and sat with me, and we began to get comfy and become aware of all that was going on around us. We watched a fat bumbling bumble bee crawling in and out of a flower, and the buzz it made when squeezing out. We saw it’s little legs laden with yellow pollen.

And God saw that it was good!

(Gen 1:10)

We noticed the colours of the wild flowers coming up with the lawn… clover purple, buttercups bright yellow , daisies white but blushed pink at the edges. To get a closer look I lay down on the grass, and T climbed on my back. And we began to relax and rest. As we watched and listened to the garden we saw a pied wagtail coming and going, collecting insects. Sometimes running, sometimes jumping or hopping, sometimes slow with the tail bobbing. T noticed it always went to the same tree when it’s beak was stuffed full. So we chatted about whether there might be a nest there. Was this the same wagtail each time, or was it mum & then dad taking turns?

They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! (Lk 12:24)

We enjoyed it for a while (maybe even 5 mins – that’s a remarkable time with T still & absorbed with me there too) and then we tiptoed over to the tree to see what we could see. Up in the tree directly above us, almost within reach were two soft grey, downy, fluff-balls with bobbing tails! Baby wagtails! T was so excited, we ran in to fetch a camera and each had a go at trying to stand very still and film these wonderful birds. What a treat!

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It’s always a treat, a gift to share a moment like that with one of my children. We wonder together at the beauty of God’s creation. It’s intricate detail, it’s variety. I wonder at the care over the detail, each little baby bird known and loved by it’s creator. Each bird designed and decorated in joy. T found a tiny feather under the tree and ran in to put it in her feather jar – each one collected carefully, each a memory of wonder and discovery.

A whole hour? Really??

Our church has been taking part in ‘Thy Kingdom Come 2017’ this week beginning with a prayer 24/7 style prayer marathon that will finish in time for our early morning service on Sunday, and our celebration of Pentecost.

Everyone in church had an opportunity to sign up for one of the hours in the prayer space – a whole hour?? I went with T for an hour yesterday, not the best timing 12-1pm – right when she’s usually eating lunch! Anyway, we packed biscuits and a flask of hot chocolate to keep us going if hunger got in the way, and we set off with Annie (favourite doll) quite ‘nervous-ited’ as T calls that funny mix of excitement and feeling daunted at something unknown.

It was less of an unknown to me, I had planned the room so knew exactly what would be there… and of course had made sure there were plenty of hands on things people of any age or ability could join in with.

We began the hour predictably, straight to the playdough mats. While she began we remembered the story of the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples as they prayed. And talked about how the Holy Spirit helped them share Jesus’ good news. We read the story of the wise and foolish house builders from a children’s Bible as T finished (and helped Annie finish) the playdough picture. And we began to wonder together what it means to pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come’…

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T knew the phrase from learning the prayer at school, so we said the whole prayer out loud together and she and Annie set off to another part of the room. To my surprise she didn’t stop at the library of story books & cosy tent with beanbags, she went straight to the table with the papers and odds and ends people might find helpful – blue tack, post-its, luggage tags, Bibles, felt pens, colouring sheets (yes, any excuse to design a new one!) & colour in booklets about the Lord’s prayer. I showed her the booklet she could make and how it might help her to pray, but she picked up the colouring sheet, sat Annie on a little chair, drew up another, chose a colour and then said ‘tell me about this wall Mummy’…

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Right next to us was a wall for drawing and writing onto, ‘The Kingdom of God is…’, with questions; what does the Kingdom look, sound, feel, taste, smell like? ‘Taste like???? how can it taste Mummy??’. I found the passage after the beatitudes with the passages that compare the Kingdom to different things. And read about salt! ‘Do you think we are supposed to be salty if we are part of God’s Kingdom T?’, ‘Ughhh! I don’t like salt!’. ‘Hang on though T, what would ready salted crisps (a favourite) be like without salt?’, ‘Yuk!’ said T. ‘It’s salt that makes them taste good, salt makes all sorts of tastes extra alive. Salt makes some things last better. And it can make things get better quicker sometimes.’ ‘Really? Wow, Mummy you should draw salt shaking all over the whole world then it will be better.’ I drew as I was instructed and we prayed for God salt, and God’s salty Kingdom people to make the world better.

Publication2We sat for quite a while, T colouring, me praying.

‘What are you doing Mummy? Are you still worrying about salt?’, ‘Not really T, just listening to what God might say to me as I talk with him’. ‘How will you know? Have you heard his voice?’, ‘Have you T?’. ‘It’s low low low, and serious… and beautiful’. ‘I think it’s also sometimes like this too’, and I laid my hand on her arm, ‘like that, safe warm..’, ‘With you feeling!’ T smiles, ‘Yes Mummy, sometimes’. ‘I think that when I’m talking with God and thinking with him he helps me with new ideas and thoughts, helps me see new things I hadn’t noticed or understood before’, I said. ‘So what do you need to draw there now Mummy?’…

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I asked T to come and pray for our town, we had wooden houses, trees, people & animals to put onto the map. We thought about places and people, and took turns to ask God to be with them, and help them. Then we saw the table with A’s globe on it, and we had to stop and look. A display of prayers from around the world. ‘Is there China?’, said T. She was fascinated by China when she learnt about Chinese New Year at school. We read the prayer from China together looking at it on the globe. And then the doorbell went – the hour was gone! It was a very precious hour, heartfelt conversation T, God & me.

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B’s colouring later in the day.

lost in the garden

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‘Flowers are restful to look at. They have no emotions or conflict,’ said Freud

Spring is definitely here! I am back out in the garden, finally. Any chance I get!

I love the escape of the garden, the straight forwardness of it’s demands and needs – at the moment, the weeds! I love the creativity of arranging (and rearranging) and the satisfaction of watching things grow and flower.

I got into gardening as a self found therapy. The year we got married I was recovering fairly slowly from glandular fever which had knocked me for six, and left me with clinical depression (there isn’t another kind, but many use the word to mean feeling low, and it wasn’t that). The house we moved into after the wedding was a new house to the landlord, a pretty Victorian terrace house opening straight onto the street, and the long thin garden at the back was ‘full of potential’ with a beautiful large tree and hidden under weeds and brambles there were (I was later to discover) some flower beds.

While Andrew was at college, I got out there whenever I could as soon as I was physically up to it… short visits at first, then gradually I found myself getting lost out there working methodically, very slowly but surely clearing and planting, clearing and planting.

‘Perhaps the most unexpected potential benefit of getting your hands dirty, however, comes from researchers at the University of Bristol, who reported that bacteria commonly found living in soil may have a positive effect on our mood’. James Wong.

I have found many articles and essays on the benefits of gardening for mental health, for stress relief, and for physical recovery. One I read recently suggested 10 benefits:

  • sense of responsibility
  • reminds us we are nurturers
  • connects us to living things
  • helps us relax
  • releases happy chemicals
  • reminds us to be present in the moment
  • immerses us in the cycle of life, helping us to work through anxieties about death
  • plenty of room for venting anger and stress
  • gardening is easy

(from an article for Psychology Today, by Sarah Rayner)

I have not read much in these articles about drawing close to God, or being reminded of the beauty of creation or of the care he takes over the smallest of parts of his creation. But I find it fairly impossible to ignore! And the very action of gardening; tending, nurturing, freeing the swamped or vulnerable, feeding, watering, hoping, both rejoicing and bearing disappointments – all of these aspects of gardening are parts of God’s heart and actions towards his creation. Gardening doesn’t just cultivate the plants it probably cultivates the gardener too, as we learn and practice these attitudes and as we participate in the care of God’s world.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Mt 6:26 NIV)

One part of the garden here that I have been working on is a hidden away patch that I discovered whilst clearing brambles last year. I have cleared a path to this little clearing between the shrubs and trees and arranged the stumps and logs we unearthed there under the ivy. It is becoming our ‘fairy garden’ – a hidden play space just big enough for a couple of littlies. I am still clearing the hard to get rid of weeds; the docks, brambles & ivy – and a few of the shrubs and wild roses that seem to be of the belief that it’s their space!

But this year we have already done a bit more planting, and some fairy houses have moved in – and (when there aren’t too many bees buzzing near by) it is becoming that play space I hope it can be as the houses and bits & bobs that I am making get rearranged and fairies are imagined there. Shells and nuts, twigs and feathers are being collected and transformed into plates, chairs, canopies…