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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Ten questions about prayer

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I’ve written before about praying in our family life… the ups and downs, the triumphs and perceived failures. Prayer is right in there at the heart of a life of faith, right there at the heart of what it is to live as a Christian. And it seems to me that, in our family at least, there are quite a number of questions about it that hang around in the background of the practical ways and opportunities that we use together to pray as a family. Sometimes it’s good to look the questions in the eye and ask myself – am I helping my children to learn about these? Am I giving them opportunities to gain experience that will help them find answers? Am I modelling and talking about prayer in ways that helps with these questions or that makes it all the more confusing?

  1. Why? Why do we pray? I think this goes hand in hand with ‘do I have to?’, and for me I see this question being mulled over, often unspoken, at bedtimes when we have an expectation of a habit of prayer before sleep. We have tried to pray with our children as an integral part of their bedtime routines since they were tiny. And we have certainly prayed for them at this part of the day since they were babies. Our children know that before sleep, we pray. And sometimes the pressure of that expectation actually forces this question – but why???, or do I have to???2016-03-03 10.19.20 The word ‘prayer’ is from middle English, adopted from the Anglo-Norman which in turn is from the Latin meaning ‘to earnestly beg’. But our word prayer is used to translate a number of Hebrew words, and also a number of Greek words in the Bible not just one. And they mean more than ‘beg’, there are words meaning worship, to represent someone to the judge, to bend towards, to bow, to hope and to trust. So am I making this rich breadth of meaning clear to my children if the word ‘prayer’ is my default way of inviting them to talk with God? If I long for my children to experience prayer as a scared space of connecting, talking, listening and being in God’s presence – as something worshipful and relational – then it would help them if I were to model all sorts of ways of praying, and talk about my own experience of coming close to God in prayer.
  2. Does prayer work? I ‘hear’ this question being wondered about when I sense them getting disheartened that they feel their prayers have ‘not been answered’ – or in other words they haven’t been given what they asked for. I think this question also ties in with knowing more and more what prayer is all about – that it is more than a wish list that we read out to God. I think it also plays into our growing understanding of who God is and his purposes. I want to say more often than I do ‘God is not a slot machine, prayer is not us putting in the coin’. front cover 3.pubI want to help my children pray boldly when they have requests for God and I want them to experience God always answering their prayers – and learning to look for those answers beyond their expectations. I wonder if I am sharing my experiences with them, am I telling my stories of answered prayer? I want them to know that God doesn’t always just say yes but he always listens, and always answers whether that’s with a yes, or a not now, or a no. This seems to be quite a tricky one for all of us to get our heads around so I’ve been busy writing a book to help explore this. It’s called ‘So many answers!’ & it will be available very soon! (I’m very excited!!)
  3. Who am I talking to when I pray? The other questions behind this might well be ‘who is God, is that the same as Father God?’, ‘who is Jesus?’, ‘is Jesus God?’, ‘who is the Holy Spirit?’. Am I ready for these questions? I wonder which parts of the Bible will help me to share with my children what Christians believe about God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Could I turn to the story of creation where it talks about the Spirit hovering over the waters, and God is described as ‘us’, and then turn to the beginning of John and look at how the Word (Jesus) was there from the very beginning creating our world? Maybe I could draw a picture together with my children about when Jesus was baptized and he heard the Father’s voice, and saw the Spirit fall on him? Have my children heard prayers begun in different ways, addressing Father, Jesus, Lord, Creator God, Spirit…?
  4. Is God really listening? Is God really there? My children are logical, often literal in the way they make sense of their world. When we pray we don’t generally ‘see’ God there with us physically. He is different from us. It is mind-blowing and mysterious to think of God being close, ever-present, like us (we are in his image) yet so different (holy, eternal…), invisible yet we can talk together and be in his presence. It can be hard to accept the unseen, intangible is real. 20170212_114109Yet thankfully my logical, often literal children are very keen scientists! So I can use examples of other invisible-to-our-physical-eyes, intangible things we can experience that they have no problem believing are real – electricity, forces, dimensions, air, atoms, gravity… We see and experience the effects of these things despite not seeing them. In a similar way we see and experience the effects of God’s presence. Am I listening and watching for their experiences of God’s presence and naming it? Am I sharing testimony of things that inspire me in faith? Am I praying for their faith to increase, and for them to experience God’s presence in deeper ways?
  5. Does God ever speak back? How can we explore the many ways God seeks us out and speaks to us? The Bible stories, Moses, Saul/Paul, Samuel all come to mind to chat about. How am I facilitating my children broadening their experience through chatting with other Christians, hearing about their experiences and answered prayers; listening to how others have been guided by the whisper or the thundering voice of God, or by pictures and dreams.
  6. What am I allowed to pray about? Am I letting my children see me send urgent arrow prayers through the day; rejoice and praise; trust God with worries, difficult questions, heartache; are they able to join us in our ongoing intercessions? Am I still carving out opportunities to invite them into prayer at different times and circumstances? Have I, and do I clearly give permission to my children to talk to God about absolutely anything and everything?
  7. How can I choose the right words? or ‘is there a right way of praying?’, or ‘what happens if I get it wrong?’. 20171115_110630[1]When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray they were probably asking the same question. Jesus gave them an invitation which of course begins ‘Our Father…’ – an invitation to come close to the perfect loving Father who knows us better than we will ever know ourselves. Knowing who we come to, and realizing prayer is about relationship, family time means we can come without fear of failing to pray ‘right’. I wonder how many different ways of praying my children have been a part of? Have I been only using liturgical prayers, or only extempore prayer, do we actively encourage meditative prayer, imaginative Ignation prayer, sung prayers… are we getting a variety of experiences?
  8. When should I pray? I suppose I’m asking myself similar questions as I did for qu 6. What am I modelling for them in my own prayer life? do they see I have a prayer life? And am I prompting or enabling praying at all times and in all circumstances?
  9. Does God want me to pray? I want them to find out more about God’s delight in us coming into his ever-with-us presence when we pray, how he wants to speak to us about things beyond our imagination and expectations, and about how his love for us can be known in every single answer he gives us. How often am I praying for them to know God’s love for them deeper and deeper? How often am I speaking Father God’s love over them and into them? And, am I showing them that love in the way I parent?
  10. Does my prayer change anything? Won’t God do what he has already decided to do? C.S. Lewis said of prayer ‘it doesn’t change God, it changes me!’. Mother Teresa said ‘I used to believe prayer changes things. Now I know prayer changes us, and we change things.’ Exploring this question is so closely tied to exploring why we pray, and who we are talking to when we pray. And it touches on another mysterious paradox too, we are predestined yet have freedom to genuinely live our own way; God is sovereign yet he invites us to become part of his work in the world; God knows what is before us, and what will happen, he knows our prayers before we even think them but he longs for us to be part of it, he asks us to intercede for others, to talk to him. Am I ready to hear my children’s questions here, and acknowledge the paradox, and be alongside as they discover we can’t understand God fully or pin him down, but that we can know he invites us into his presence because it’s home, it’s where we find everything we need to truly thrive. Prayer changes us.

 

comfort zone

 

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In our household we talk about retreating to our ‘caves’ – the little cosy, personal spaces that are our escape places to retreat to and shut the world out of. They are not actually dark, or particularly cave-like at the moment but they have been at times; tents, dens, hidden corners under beds – even under sofa cushions, duvets or in kitchen cupboards at times. Safe ‘dark caves’ are actually really important. We need times where we can relax, guard down and know we are safe and all is well even if only for a short time.

Being ‘out of your comfort zone’ – being in situations, or doing tasks that are really challenging for you can be so tiring. I have been reminded of it this week. It was my turn to lead the singing at the toddler group – something I have been doing in different toddler groups for years yet still very out of my comfort zone! Without fail I come away from those few minutes feeling tired and drained. Context is everything isn’t it, I have sung with my own children, nieces and nephews since forever. How different it feels in a room full of expectant little ones – and their carers.

Yesterday I had a big out-of-my-comfort-zone day. It was an RE ethical debate for the year 10’s at secondary school, and I had been invited (and had willingly agreed I might add!) to be part of the panel giving my views on abortion, euthanasia and faith schools and then ready to answer questions afterwards. Exciting, invigorating, inspiring questions and insights from the students alongside shaking hands and legs and racing heart! I was in need of a darkened room once it had finished! But felt pleased to have taken part. Having the chance to explore different points of view, different faith beliefs and the complexity of these tough ethical questions is so vital. I’m always so thankful that these kinds of debates were always opened up for us around the table at home growing up and that we were always encouraged in finding our own thoughts and listening to the viewpoint of others.

On days where shaking hands and legs, and a racing heart are a big part of the experience a safe retreat space is needed. I would hazard a guess this is a daily experience for many autistic people facing situations, contexts and tasks that are challenging day in day out.

I spent some time at toddlers enjoying studying the church ceiling with a little one who I suspect was escaping to a safe retreat place for a few minutes, away from the noise and happy bustle of the large group (T does the same sometimes – often through a camera lens). We can find retreat spaces even in the most unexpected. Different places giving us that much needed rest at different times. Our loving Father God knows we need these retreat spaces. He offers himself as a hiding place for us. His presence the ultimate safe space of retreat. And just like we fill our cozy caves with things that we need to calm, and refresh us, God our Father’s presence is full to overflowing with love, faithfulness, acceptance and peace for us.

‘..hide me in the shadow of your wings’ (Ps 19:8 NIV)

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‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,

and I will give you rest’. (Mt 11:28)

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.’

                         ………

He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. (Psalm 91: 1,2,4)

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DIY sensory scripture glitter frame

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I have been seeing a lot of pictures around that have an inspirational quote in the background and room for a heap of free flowing sequins and glitter in front. They’re great, quite mesmerizing. The sequins make a great soft sound as they move around, are quite responsive to your moving of the frame. And there’s the fun of covering the words and revealing them.

I began wondering about the idea of putting together one of my own (or maybe a few) where the words are from the Bible. It could be reflective, perhaps even meditative. So I chose a cheap box frame making sure it was the kind with a gap between the picture and the glass/perspex. I went for a soft green and then headed home pondering what words.

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Andrew suggested ‘my cup overflows’ from Psalm 23, imagining the glitter ‘overflowing’ from a cup as it moved around the frame, great idea so i grabbed my pens and paper and started to play with the words. Eventually ending up on warm primrose yellow paper, and put together in a design with words from Lamentations as well which began running through my mind as I drew.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. (Lam 3:22 NIV)

In many translations this verse emphasizes the way that God’s mercy and love last forever, as the next verse goes on to spell out ‘they are new every morning, great is his faithfulness!’. But it is this particular translation that I must have learnt as a child, and I love the way it speaks of the power and strength of God’s love and mercies – they are gutsy, rescuing.

Once I was happy with my design I then had a happy half hour with B sifting through our collections of little pots of sparkly, stick-on things in the craft box picking out gold, bronze and some little sea glass green beads. The frame needed some hot glue to seal the ‘box’ part against the perspex so the sequins can’t slip out, and again to seal the back once I was happy everything was in place. All that’s left to do is enjoy, and be reminded of the love and mercy that flow from God making my life full-to-overflowing, blessed. And that those very verses come from a book of lament, and a psalm about walking through the valley of the shadow of death needing God’s protection!

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Ideas for using the sensory scripture frame:

  • simply as a quiet reflection focal point, calm space to listen to what God is reminding you about.
  • as a memory verse, cover and uncover sections of the design (or whatever verse you have used) trying to say the whole of the verse each time.
  • with a design like mine that doesn’t have the full verse written out, use it as a starting place for going on a treasure hunt for the full verses together. find the words you do have and look them up. Read the verses before and after.
  • one of the verses I have used is picture language; think about the meaning of the metaphor. Get a cup and fill it to overflowing with water, rice or cereal. What happens when it overflows? Do we usually pour stuff into something until it overflows? When would we? Does that same kind of ‘overflowing’ process ever happen in our life? How could God ‘pour’ something into our life as if it were a cup that could overflow? And what would he pour in?

ready, steady…answer

I have just spent a very lovely morning with our pre-school service at church, ‘Pips Praise’. Lots of laughter, wiggling, dancing and listening. For me the morning finished with a conversation about the story we had listened to with a little one crawling under the row of chairs.

“I used all the stars [stickers making a starry sky picture] – there are so many”, “Can you count them?”, “No [giggles] there are lots”. “Abraham couldn’t count them either could he, that’s why God asked him to look. God wanted to promise he would have a family so big he couldn’t count them”, “God thought the stars were beautiful” [questioning my logic], “oh yes, but also to show Abraham his family would be so many he couldn’t count them. Did God keep his promise?”, “They had a baby.”, “yes and the baby was the start of a very big family, God kept his promise” [back to the picture and the stars and whether Daddy was going to like the picture like God thought the starry sky was beautiful…]

It reminded me, as I was chatting sprawled on the floor with a little one under the chairs that you have to be ready, steady to go when it comes to chatting Bible stories and what God is like. You never know when or where you’ll be when the conversation opens up. Children are so full of curiosity and questions, they are hungry to know and understand, and it seems to me that as soon as a question gets formed it can’t be held in for long so we need to be ready there and then especially with little ones – and my not so little autists!

Your heart should be holy and set apart for the Lord God. Always be ready to tell everyone who asks you why you believe as you do. Be gentle as you speak and show respect. (1 Peter 3:15 NLV)

Some of my coming alongside children and young people to share faith happen when I set aside a time – when I help run a club, or lead a small group time, or organize a mentor time… but most happens in those unexpected moments. This is especially true in family faith sharing, more often than not if we plan a particular time, or story, or prayer activity we have a small chance of it being meaningful and fruitful. It’s the unexpected opportunities that really open things up to talk about the things of faith. And it’s often a challenge because the unexpected moments are often moments we feel least ready, least in tune with God.

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For example I remember vividly a particularly challenging day on holiday when B & A were very small. They had spent the day annoying and getting at each other. No game had gone smoothly. No conversation had ended well. Nothing had been ‘right’ for B, so meltdowns and inflexibility had shaped the day for all of us. And we as parents probably felt it more keenly on holiday with all the hopes of good family time together, fun and closeness. We were worn out, and by bedtime just wanted (needed) a brief moment of rest as we got them to sleep (even knowing it would not be long before one of them needed us through the night as usual). This bedtime became one of those unexpected moments, when I was worn thin and felt I had nothing left.

Andrew was bathing A, and I was wrestling an octopus – or was I getting B into pyjamas – when out of the blue, suddenly B turns and stops fighting me and says:

“Why do I always end up doing cross things, when I love A, and want to play. I want to do the right thing but it’s impossible.”

I can remember taking a small deep breath as I hung on her words and with my other hand reached for the children’s Bible on the floor by the bed. This was one of those moments. I turned to the pictures of the Easter story and we began to talk as we looked at them.

“It’s impossible for me too, and A, and Daddy. None of us can do the right thing all the time. Sometimes I shout when I am tired and cross, sometimes we don’t remember about something we have promised you will happen, sometimes I have unkind thoughts about people when I feel grumpy too. But I think my friend Jesus knows that, that’s why he came.”

B looked long and hard at the pictures and we remembered the story together.

“He did all this because he loves us, and he knows it’s impossible for us to get everything right. He knows we try, and try again, but he knows we can’t do it. And that has stopped us being able to be friends with him, and with Father God. So he came to help. I believe he came, and he died because of all the times we don’t get it right or do the right thing.”

Turning the page we looked at Jesus, alive again.

“God’s love is so strong Jesus came alive again. And that means he can forgive us completely – that means we can start all over again. And that means he is with us to help us when it is impossible to do the right thing on our own.”

We skipped some pages and looked at pictures of the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples at Pentecost.

“Did Jesus do all that for me? Can he help me?”

“Yes he did! He loves you!”

 

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And there and then we talked to Jesus together, saying sorry, saying we wanted to be friends with him, saying how we needed his help. And there and then, in the midst of our tired wrestling bedtime at the end of an exhausting and disappointing day B made her choice to become friends with Jesus who loves her. We carried on putting reluctant limbs into pyjamas, and climbed into the bed together to read stories. She snuggled in, and drifted to sleep. And I lay there next to her reeling with the surprise of the moment, and full of thanks to God for how he had helped me to turn from grumpy, tired Mummy mode and to find the gentleness, and patience and words to help her to understand just how loved she is.

…be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Tim 4:2 NIV)

Being ready is the challenge! More about living in trust with God than about knowing loads. More about heart readiness. Being ready for the unexpected moments is as important as the regular faith habits (or irregular depending on how well its going!)  we try to keep as a family. Moments are around every corner, and conversations open up when we least expect them. It can be bathtime, mealtimes, meltdowns, school drop off or pick up, in the park, in church, in the car, in season and out of season. My challenge is – be ready!

Have you had unexpected moments to share faith with your children?