Treasure in clay pots

2016-11-30-13-50-30Anxiety plays a fairly large part in our family life even when things are going ‘smoothly’ and for some of us when yet another rolling wave of anxiety breaks it triggers really negative thoughts. Thoughts that play over & over, that are hard to rationalize away without support, that damage self-esteem, that bring with them looming doubts and questions about God’s love… can it really be unconditional?

 

I was asked at bedtime last night to teach a way to make these thoughts stop, to stop the spiral down. It’s not an easy, quick fix answer.

‘but how do you stop them Mummy? how do you get rid of anxiety?’

‘Some days I manage to stay in charge – other days even when I work hard with all my energy it can still feel like an uphill struggle’…’we have been practicing some tools together already haven’t we?’

‘yeah, I guess so’

‘weighing up the evidence for a specific fear… visualizing putting down negative thoughts and picking up the positive to hold onto… techniques to relax our bodies and give our minds a chance to calm down… answering back the repeating thoughts with ‘see it another way’ statements…’

‘but they keep coming back’

‘I know, we just have to keep on standing up to them…’

Oh it hurts! It aches.

Thinking about our anxious thoughts & doubts, and listening for wisdom about it, wondering where to begin exploring together what the Bible has to say, I am hearing the reading from this week’s staff prayers again- the amazing picture of the new city; pure gold, solid foundations upon bejeweled foundations; perfectly ordered and in proportion; dazzlingly bright, the glory of God himself bursting through it lighting it for all to see; gathering within it all the people of God – all one with its glory, coming down ready as a bride coming into the church and all eyes are upon her! And in my mind’s eye I see God turning to greet her with a full heart and a beaming smile, and arms open wide in welcome. Our homecoming! Our destiny in Jesus! (Revelation 21:9-27)

God is in the business of making all things new, and we are all longing and yearning for that fullness that is yet to be fully seen, fully experienced, fully lived, fully shared with him.

2016-12-02-18-15-10Right into our darkness, our doubt, our anxiety; right into this world where perfection eludes us, and we cannot be who we hope to be no matter how much energy we put in; right into our lives and hearts which daily battle with choices and temptations – God’s word became a baby to grow and walk among us – Jesus! Emmanuel, God with us! To reach us, to rescue, to redeem and restore. God’s powerful word – who spoke us into being. God’s first word over us – ‘You are so good!’ God’s final word over us -‘You are loved!’

At the New Wine summer conference this year Danielle Strickland  told us about once accompanying a man to see his baby for the very first time. How he caught sight of his baby, and as his tears ran the father turned to her saying ‘have you ever seen anything so beautiful?’ And as we listened, tears ran as we suddenly realized Father God’s words spoken over our lives from the beginning – ‘have you ever seen anything so beautiful? you are so, so good!’

“So God breathed life into Adam and Eve. When they opened their eyes, the first things they saw was God’s face.

‘You look like me,’ he said. ‘You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever made!’

God loved them with all of his heart. And they were lovely because he loved them.”

Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus storybook Bible, p26.

These words are our true foundation, these are our true identity. And even in pitch darkness it is this that God sees when he looks upon us in love.  It is this that Jesus comes to redeem – to buy back. It is this that the Holy Spirit is restoring in this waiting time; polishing, refining, healing and mending, strengthening, re-purposing, renewing, readying…

God’s love for us is not dependent on our own ability to manage being perfect…

Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready… God put his love on the line for us …

Romans 5:8 (MSG)

God loves us, he just does! He made us, and we are his.

It is his words I need to go on speaking over my children, his words I need to pray he will pour into them, his words I want to be talking with them about in wonder.

His love for us fills us with treasure inside, his love for us offers a hand to take tight hold of, a hand that will lead us through all our ups and downs of everyday life – anxious doubts and all, and will lead us into that amazing destiny of ours in Jesus.

It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.

 If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken.

2 Cor 4:6-10 (MSG)

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Can you hear me?

Andrew is away for a few days at the moment, at a New Wine Leader’s conference, I’m really praying he is fed, refreshed, renewed in his sense of purpose & calling. Part of me is a bit envious, it can be too easy to get so busy with the ‘doing’ bit of our calling that unless we ‘go away’ – be intentional – about listening, we can fall into the pattern of hearing the voices of a diary, or other’s opinions, or our own doubts and limitations first before listening out for the most precious voice who speaks into our everyday.

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Meanwhile I’m at home! And yes it has meant juggling a few extras (but Andrew the chickens are fine!! They have not been forgotten), and B & A have had to be a little more independent than usual & walk to school without us; and as always seems to happen it is a week with a few extra meetings & a bit more prep than usual to do – some visits to tutor groups at secondary school to lead their reflections, I’ve been given the privilege of speaking at our Women’s world day of prayer service tommorrow, and it’s all age Mother’s Day service on Sunday which I’m bringing together & leading with Andrew. So I have been trying to listen…

…and isn’t that such a bundled mixture of doubt, moments of truth and faith, failure and frustration, precious phrases that come to entwine us and weave His presence into our thoughts and struggles and mundane business! His precious words gently tugging us, winning us, wooing us back into his presence even as we struggle to switch off to all the other voices within and without calling us to give our full attention elsewhere…

Children, can you hear me?

Of course you can!

Just call on me, and I will answer you.

(‘Children can you hear me’. Brad Jersak)

 The theme for the service tommorrow is ‘Receive children. Receive me’;

The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them. (Mk 10:13-16 The MSG)

so I have been reflecting again on just how Jesus values the innate spirituality in each of us, regardless of age or social standing, we are made for relationship with the living God, and he calls out to each of us ‘children, can you hear me?’. Children weren’t valued, they weren’t even counted (literally – a head count meant ‘men’ were counted, not women or servants or children) so Jesus, crouching down to look the little ones in the eye and gently draw them into the centre of what he was doing & what he was about must have shocked many that day.

He put a child in the middle of the room. Then, cradling the little one in his arms, he said, “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me—God who sent me.” (Mk 9:37 The MSG)

I have been, off and on, continuing to explore the book by Brad Jersak ‘Children can you hear me?’. This week T chose it again for one of the bedtime stories and we have reached a page about meeting Jesus in the Bible stories, allowing ourselves to imagine the story & step in ourselves. Once we imagine ourselves in the story the invitation is to look for Jesus, What is he doing? What is he saying? Do I want to speak to him?

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So we had a go, she is getting used to the pattern of the book now and it’s invitations, she repeats as if to herself every time a phrase he introduces at the very beginning about hearing and seeing with our heart’s eyes and ears, then she closes her eyes and joins in. She described to me the story of the storm on the lake and disciples in the boat, how Jesus like a ghost walked out towards them on the water and they were scared.

‘where are you T, are you in the boat too?’

‘I am but I’m going to jump out like the disciple who wanted to run to Jesus’

‘can you do it? can you get to Jesus?’

‘the waves are cold and big mummy, the disciple is sinking, I think I will be sinking too’

‘what is Jesus doing?’

‘its ok mummy he is holding on tight to me, I won’t sink’

‘what does that feel like?’

‘um…strong, … and silky…’

I love how the encounter in prayer left T looking for words… (and I love the ones she chose!)…we lose that a bit as we get older and somehow translate our experience of his presence immediately into phrases and words we have learnt are appropriate. Children, often especially mine I feel, say it how it is as they encounter it – and I learn so much from them, goodness my faith needs their insight!

I went from that moment with T in God’s presence, pondering. ‘strong & silky’. Tender. True. Trustworthy. Eyes full of love and compassion attentive and ready to rescue.

‘strong & silky’ are words that have entwined me in my busyness this week since that shared prayer time with T. They have spoken tenderness and care into my heart… they have reminded me of words of a song which speaks of the depth of the love of God for us and my need for those moments of true listening wrapped in His presence.

I need to keep my heart’s eyes and ears open as I pray and serve and explore and wonder alongside my children, I need what they show me as they grow in faith, I need what they teach me as God speaks to them.

I will be finishing my talk tommorrow like this:

‘Think of Eli in the temple, his own sons gone their own way, looking after young Samuel and teaching him in the traditions and the faith. Sam woke him up – not just literally but also spiritually, reminding him of the reality of God – the expectation of God speaking to his people had long since left him but Sam was open and heard God’s voice in the night, he needed Eli to wake up and show him the way! Without Eli Sam had no context, no understanding to turn to, without Sam Eli was lost in tradition and disappointment, God brought them together and led not only them nearer to him but through them all his people.’

  • what have you learnt afresh about God this week from your children?

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no one told me that

‘how far back does our online diary go?’, ‘when did we start using it?’, ‘I don’t know!’ – ‘well what is it you’re trying to remember?’, ‘I need dates for these assessments (showing a scribbled list) – I’ve narrowed it down to 2012, but it could be 2011??’….

When the kids were born, we had the little red books with spaces for all the milestones & vaccinations, weights & heights, no one told me I might need a set of box files kept neatly to hand in chronological order. No one told me it would be useful to hang on to letters about dates & times of appointments, or e-mails, or phone calls. So here I am trying to piece together a timeline from the scattered information I have kept. Its making me feel drained just looking over it all, so that I can fill in the new forms in front of me this week!

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No one told me, because no one knew that for us family life would involve all this. It’s just kind of evolved that way.

It all began really with an overwhelming feeling of helplessness that I just couldn’t get breastfeeding right, I just somehow wasn’t relaxed enough, or producing enough milk, or not holding her in the right way?? It just wasn’t working, and I couldn’t meet my little girl’s vital needs. The midwife had to keep coming round, she advised us through the transition to bottle feeding, we tried different bottles, different teats, tried demand feeding, tried to the clock… to no avail. Feeding was a battle. And our little bundle was a bundle of stress and sleeplessness – no surprise we thought, she’s always hungry bless her. Health visitors checked in regularly, at one point I took her to the doctors nearly once a week asking and asking why she was struggling – or why I was struggling… to no avail.

Weaning proved equally tricky, she was obviously scared of food, scared of the feeling of it, and swallowing it. She walked early and I can remember following her around with a yogurt trying just to get a spoonful in every now & then while she played – just something each day. I read everything I could find, tried every idea I could think of – picnics in indoor tents, tiny pieces of colourful food in ice cube trays, food pictures, playing with food, eating altogether, eating alone, sitting with me, following her around on the go, food treasure hunts. But we were at the bottom of a very long uphill battle.

When A came along the difference was so stark, the first time he was offered food on a spoon I had to hold tight before he swallowed spoon & all!! But B was still obsessively picky, and resistant to food. I remember asking for help as always, from the health visitor at A’s 2 yr check. We were sitting in our new house, Andrew’s first post following curacy, in the sitting room and I so clearly remember her words and the deep pain that followed. ‘If you keep on thinking this is a problem, and keep on asking for help, you will create an anorexic child!’. Those words, and the tone in which they were said (a ‘you don’t know just how good you’ve got it, I’ve bigger problems to deal with’ kind of tone) haunted me. So there was to be a gap in the timeline of appointments and support – I was desperate to avoid the danger of making everything worse so I took her at her word and stopped asking, stopped thinking about weight and tried to ignore the fact that A was growing past her fast.

In the meantime, as we muddled along, trying to be ‘calm around food’, and not draw attention to the problems (which of course were still there and growing) we kept our head down and got on as best we could. I went along to ‘webster stratton’ parenting courses (basic and advanced!!!), and it just seemed to me every week that we had a little one who was different from expectations. I remember laughing inside when we learnt about child led play & how at least 10 minutes of this each day was vital for a contented child – ‘maybe your problems and difficult behaviour would change if you tried it?’ – the diary I kept that week showed more child led play than anything else which was no surprise to me; it was the ending of it that proved tricky not the lack of it. Let’s face it, its not unreasonable to expect a 3 yr old to be able to pause for mummy to go to the loo every now and then (without working up to a frenzy which could mean hurting herself) is it?? She found the loopholes in the time out system in no time – it was quickly her doll that hit or grabbed and then of course how could I send her to time out, because it wasn’t her… she could keep her attention on changing a behaviour for just long enough to complete a reward chart and then of course get back to her comfortable routine… and no sleep techniques even seemed to make a dent in the lack of good sleep we had been experiencing since she was born!

Anyway, she was starting nursery too which might help – she was so bright, so ready for the challenge, maybe she was just bored at home, maybe I wasn’t being creative enough or imaginative enough, or dedicated enough to meet her needs. But she struggled to be left – big time! There were weeks where I rang up on the Monday and simply said that she wasn’t able to come in for a few days – she and I were under so much stress trying to do it, that we needed breaks. But of course soon enough she was 5 and had to go to school, no choice… and that year, and the year after that, and the year after that were tough.

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When she was in Reception class she had a brilliant teacher, who seemed to just ‘get her’, loved her zest for life, and knowledge, found her eccentricities fun like we did. That helped such a lot, we could talk, and share ideas, say we were worried when it had been a tough morning getting her up & out. You may remember that the government in its wisdom started a new campaign to ‘tackle obesity’ when my children were small – its still going now – as part of this campaign children as young as 4 going on 5, in reception classes had to be taught about healthy food. It wasn’t necessarily designed to designate good foods and bad foods but inevitably that was probably the easiest message for a little girl who distrusted foods to take on board. And despite the best efforts of that wonderful teacher who immediately began some work with the class around health, confidence and self-esteem, the struggles began to escalate. Within the next couple of years we went from obsessively picky, to obsessive avoidance – using all the tricks in the book, going to the loo during meals and spitting food out in the toilet (yes at 5,6,7 yrs), hiding food – play handbags brought to the table especially, as the stress mounted for her and us it got to the point where we were dealing with a meltdown before every meal and every snack, and if we did calm her and bring her to the table to eat sometimes the panic would overtake her causing her to be sick. It was out of control for all of us; A began to panic at the thought of a mealtime too and all the stress it would bring, I would begin to panic and despair as it got near to the time to prepare food. And B was not thriving. I can vividly remember bathtimes when I felt overcome by her physical fagility, not sure if I could safely pick her up – she looked as though she could snap. Something had to change.

So we broke the silence. I asked Andrew to ring the school nurse, while I stood listening, so fearful that a door would be closed on us again.

This time it wasn’t. She spoke at length with Andrew about our concerns, I can’t remember now whether she came and weighed her or it was the GP she encouraged us to see, or the hospital staff where she sent us for blood tests to rule out things that would need urgent attention if she had them. Relief slowly seeped in to the stress and sense of isolation that had built up within me over those few years. Somebody had taken us seriously, and was doing something.

From there we have continued on a slow but perhaps more steady way forward, with the patient (and thorough) work of CAMHS over the next few years, paediatricians got involved who have been monitoring growth, weight and height. Dietitians came alongside at different times, and psychologists and psychiatrists challenged, questioned, and reflected with us so that we could better understand  what was going on. Searching into our parenting, our experiences, our feelings about food. Listening carefully to B’s feelings and reactions to different aspects of our family life. There have been parts of that that have been uncomfortable, we have had to make ourselves open to strangers, we have wondered often if we were right to have begun something that has pushed B through some really difficult and challenging appointments. We have felt the guilt of that. We have also very much felt the concerns of others, ‘why are you looking for a label?’. We weren’t, but we were looking for understanding so that we would have a better idea where to turn to help B to grow and thrive.

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The day that we got given the diagnosis of ASD/Aspergers was such a turning point. Yes there was the realization that this was life long, and no one could tell us how it would go on shaping us all or what the struggles ahead might be for B. But also there was relief and hope, that through it we were gaining (and planning to continue to learn) a new way of seeing things with B and for B. And everything began to make sense for the first time, this diagnosis encompassed, explained in some way such a lot of our experience together as a family. And for B it was like finding a door to a community of like minded people in an alien world. In fact quite by chance Newsround Extra had an episode narrated by Rosie King, in which she explained about ASD and Aspergers and did it in such a positive way. (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ejpWWP1HNGQ) After watching it (just before one of the key assessments towards diagnosis) over and over and over, she said excitedly to us ‘Rosie is like me!’ – ‘I might be autistic?’, ‘is it something you want us to ask Dr Lorraine about?’ – ‘yes please, I’d love it if I was like Rosie, I’ve never met someone just like me.’ In that one conversation I sensed God’s gracious touch as we began more formal assessments that were needed to give us the diagnosis. It was all in God’s hands, the timing, the struggles, the future, the people who would move in and out of our lives to support, the impact on the whole family’s health and well being – it was all in God’s hands.

So, this form in front of me to be filled in this week is the next step forward in faith, I am hoping it will open up new kinds of support that will nurture and sustain us in the coming few years, and will enable what is needed to help B continue to grow and thrive. I need to reflect that alongside the heaviness and sadness that comes flooding back as I root through paperwork to find dates and names, I can also trace the faithful gracious touch of God too, as I recollect the friends and professionals who came alongside, and by recognising His protection as I look back and realise afresh that the physical damage for B could (perhaps should) have been so much worse. There were times I felt completely alone with it all, times I wondered if anyone would ever really see or listen and there were so many times I struggled to believe anyone could understand. It’s painful to recollect those feelings of hopeless helplessness. And I know there will still be moments of struggle to come… I pray I will go learning to trust, and recognise God’s faithful presence with us.

Father God, it was all in your hands all along. You have searched me and you know me, you know when I sit and when I rise, you know my thoughts – before a word is even on my lips you know it completely. You knit B together, watched as she was formed, cradled her and nurtured her in love. How precious are your thoughts to me – how vast is the sum of them! Search me and try me Lord, change me, lead me…

Why? …and other questions

The conversation after prayers went something like this;

Mum I’ve just prayed for children who live in one room & have nothing, and straight after I prayed for my eczema to get better which is hardly there … but I’ve asked him to make it better – and he will, he is, he loves you – so why doesn’t he just make it better for children like the one we saw in the DVD this morning at church? I am angry with Him, he doesn’t, but he could. Why does He just let them die?? – He let’s us make choices, sometimes our choices mean that other people suffer – why doesn’t God just get rid of the bad people who make the bad choices, then things would be okay – if he got rid of people who make bad choices wouldn’t he have to get rid of all of us? – um I suppose, but … the really bad people, who do terrible horrible things, doesn’t it make God angry? – I think it does (pause) its okay to talk to Him about how it makes you angry – I don’t want to make Him angry with me – it won’t, He wants you to talk to Him, He wants you to get to know Him better & better – pause – why should I be angry with God for not doing anything if I am here doing nothing about it? – we are doing something, we try to think about how we live and the way it affects other people – I know, but its not a lot… – all we can do is do what we can, and try to do it well… whenever we pray God changes us, makes our love bigger, makes us braver, we can ask Him to make us wise so we know what else we can do…Featured image

I love conversations like this, but why, why, why do they always happen at the last minute at bed time when you still have other children to get to bed on time & visitors you really want to spend time with downstairs??! ‘Why?’, its always a favourite question once the word is learnt (so with our oldest since she was about 10 or 11 months!). There have been many ‘whys’ about God since we became parents, and as they get older – especially now we are into tween & teens with our oldest two – the ‘whys’ are getting tougher. I sometimes feel as though I am the only panelist at a ‘grill a christian’ evening, and that’s enough to give me (shy, introvert, likes to be prepared) nightmares!

As usual I sit here, after the big conversation, analysing my responses, wondering if I should have said this or that, if what I said was misleading or unhelpful, and feeling a little uncomfortable that one of my children feels disappointed with God. Why is it that I feel I need to justify God, or give a better explanation of His actions (or in this case His seeming in-action)? It is very difficult to resist that urge to pin it all down, make clear sense of it all, have a water tight argument to counter every question or doubt – all the more when I see just how uncomfortable it can be for my girls when the things of faith, or the character of God is not ‘neat’ in that way. We talk with them about God being a safe place to be, a safe person to be with – to be trusted and relied on and I wholeheartedly believe it… but what I cannot promise is that He is always predictable, or that He will always do things the way we think is the best way – which of course, if I’m honest, makes for some discomfort, the kind that makes me grow!

 “I don’t think the way you think.
    The way you work isn’t the way I work.”
        God’s Decree.
“For as the sky soars high above earth,
    so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
    and the way I think is beyond the way you think.” (Isaiah 55:8,9 The Message)

It takes time to build trust with anyone, time to weigh up their character, time to experience their loyalty and faithfulness and to begin to dare to trust their way of doing things, and their way of seeing the world. To have faith is to commit ourselves to the process of learning to trust God. It takes time, because it is something that grows, like any relationship. Sometimes to try to justify, and to answer on God’s behalf cuts through that I think. I love this phrase that Andrew came back with from a clergy study day with Rowan Williams:

“Prayer is not something we get better at, but an environment we get used to.”

I wonder if that’s a helpful way of thinking with our children about our understanding of God when these tough questions inevitably (hopefully!) come our way. It’s true that no amount of logical thinking, or categorizing can help us to know God in a way that lets us ‘tame’ Him – make Him comfortable for us, and take away these painful, awkward wonderings of ours. He is different from us, He is Other, mystery yet revealed to us in Jesus Christ (in itself mystery). I wonder if ‘sitting with’ (acknowledging it, and allowing space for ourselves to feel it) the discomfort, and sometimes the pain of that mystery is a way forward for us… an environment we need to get used to, a leap of trust into the love and compassion we see in the person of Jesus and the Father He reveals to us.

After my Dad died very suddenly I remember the endless ‘why’s’ from my children (not to mention in my own thoughts), and one day just feeling incredibly tired – weighed down by the enormity of the ‘why?’ – I put some worship music on and just held the kids hands as we enjoyed the music, joining in the bits we knew. We came to a song simply about being loved by the Father – we were quiet, calmed even as we listened. It took us to the only answer that we really needed in the midst of all those ‘why’s’ – an answer I didn’t even recognise I was searching for in my questions. I had a similar experience learning a new song this summer called ‘Good Good Father’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fd-fxhp90pw) – moments like this give me space to ‘sit with’ those questions and they nurture trust in me again.Trust in the character of God, and the steadfastness of His loving mercy – a trust I can carry into the questions that come as I read the headlines and feel helpless, that I can hold for others as I pray for them and try to do what I can to help them in their desperation or suffering. A trust I hope I am modelling for my children, by not always (okay, not very often) having the answers, but by knowing who it is I want to sit with, and holding my children’s hands to bring them with me as I put myself there again.