Post lockdowns – back to school. Top 5 worries

Its difficult not to see the irony that in this last year and a bit, of intense, relentless adapting and coping there has been a huge need for processing life and yet the least opportunity to write! The least opportunity for space and time to gather my thoughts. We have learnt so much together, struggled together, worried together (of course!) and supported each other. And now we stand at the brink of another seismic shift – the (hopefully) final lifting of lockdowns and going back out into the world and to school. Its making me feel exhausted just writing that. Its going to be another intense few weeks, and months as we face that, adjust to it and find a new pattern for this next season.

These are top of the list of things that I am feeling overwhelmed at the thought of. I’m writing not to wallow, not to scare myself further but to begin the processing of it all. I write in the hope that it helps to say it out-loud, and to find out none of us are alone in this.

  • Energy Have I got the reserves I need to support my family through another hugely stressful transition? Sleep patterns as always aren’t great, eating healthily – not my best to be honest. Work life balance is just about manageable in lockdown, but feels daunting and untested outside of it again. And already I am experiencing the sudden waves of lurching anxiety (keep on taking the tablets Cathy!) that I won’t be enough; strong enough, wise enough, present enough to give what is needed in support day in day out. Its madness to worry, I know. I’m never enough – in God’s economy I don’t need to be, and wasn’t chosen in the hope I would be – how freeing – how terrifying. Truth is He is enough. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Cor 12:9 (Cathy – He is enough for you)
  • Catch up There’s a lot of talk about student catch up – not so much about parent catch up! Will I ever be able to get things back on track logistically? Will we get the washing & ironing sorted, how on earth did I ever do it? Will we ever find the dining room again – it has become storage, remote learning space, my at home office and my volunteering hub. It’s a mess. When will there be space and energy to unravel that as the pace of life picks up again? Even simple things like hoovering has been done less often – the noise levels for the sensitive bat ears we have in our family, the fact that almost always someone in the house is on zoom or teams – so there’s catch up everywhere I look. It’s not that important for our well being in one sense, its clean enough but at some point we’ll open the door again & people – other people – will come in!!! That’s a daunting prospect. “..but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:42 (Cathy – don’t lose sight of the important things)
  • Clothing Thinking about washing & ironing reminds me that a huge bonus of lockdowns has been the relaxing of the type of clothing I’ve had to battle T into. We’ve got completely out of practice wearing socks for example – a daily battle I’ve not been missing. Similarly, shoes have not been worn regularly. T has also grown, so not only is there a battle on the horizon to get used to the feeling of ‘out of the house’ clothes, and school uniform I need to negotiate through finding out what is uncomfortable and what doesn’t fit, and then of course the introducing of new items. Usually these two factors wouldn’t perhaps coincide quite so dramatically. But that’s going to take some doing. It will have fall out. It will be noisy, genuinely uncomfortable, emotional and a long haul. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” Isaiah 43:2 (Cathy – you’re not going through this alone)
  • Separation I was reading just yesterday that for many of us it will be a similar emotional roller-coaster to starting school in the first place – parents and students alike. We’ll have to go through another separation. T & I have been together day in day out for months now. We have been learning side by side, not sleeping well – mostly side by side. In the garden letting off steam – side by side. Going back out of the house to work and school, separately will be difficult. I know T is acutely worried about having to do school on her own, away from that close support and understanding. I know that even though I will love having some space to breathe I will worry while she is away from me. Remote learning has been sooo tough, but with it has come an opportunity to see how she flourishes with that close support (on a good day). And to see that the demands of the school work itself is challenging for T, and know with new insight she will be facing that in the challenging environment of school again. A huge increase in demands and anxieties. “He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Isaiah 40:11 (Cathy – hold onto this)
  • Pace I’ve already mentioned that it feels like the faster pace of life is looming around the corner. It is worrying me that its potentially a huge shock to the system to go from the pattern of life we’ve developed during lockdowns back into what I remember as a very fast paced, packed full (in a different way to the challenges of lockdowns) life. I’m reminding myself it will be more gradual than I’m fearing. School is the beginning, then other things will follow. Youth groups, Sunday services in the building, swimming lessons, in person social events will not all get up and running at the same time. It will be one step at a time. And I am telling myself to take those steps slowly and intentionally. I was packing too much into each week before, and here is an unexpected opportunity to do things differently – and perhaps push myself in an area I’ve never been good at – saying no to some good things, letting some things go. I simply have to. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…” Matthew 11:29 (Cathy – don’t panic, not everything needs letting go of, ask for wisdom)

These are my top 5 areas to pray about, and think about. Do they resonate with you? Maybe for you there would be others that would push some of these out of the top 5. There are certainly plenty to choose from right now as a mother of SEND children. It’s been a tough year, and it will be a tough transition coming out the other end. Please know I pray for you. Happy to listen. Happy to connect. Please don’t feel alone as this new season looms ahead. You are not alone.

It must be desperate when God sends a self-care opportunity out of the blue: crazy busy autism household in lock down.

Social media is giving me the impression that everyone has managed to achieve great and exciting projects during lockdown. I think I’m developing a good dose of lockdown envy, and guilt that I haven’t! There have been no home improvement DIY’s, no de-cluttering, no clearing out – the house is in fact messier and more chaotic than usual. I haven’t learnt any new interesting skills (apart from with tech for our ministry tasks). There just hasn’t been the time or the energy!

Doing work, ministry, volunteering, schooling, family life; being Mum, carer, wife, author, a disciple, a human – all simultaneously, all in the same space for all these weeks has been an intense challenge with no respite. The worries of the lockdown and the virus have made T more clingy than usual, set back our sleep (which lets face it wasn’t great anyway), caused bigger and more frequent waves of anxiety that have had to be managed… and everything has had to be done differently – and we don’t like change in this household!

I’ve been counting it as a good day when we are all up & dressed for some of it, and we get to bed having been fed & watered (which we are always – thank you Andrew!) and still in one piece!

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Just for a moment this morning we all went to the garden, at the same time and stood looking up at the house martins circling the garden, and trying out our house walls and window ledges for size. It was breathtaking – the birds, and the all stopping together to take it all in.

In a whirl of busy-ness where when ‘work’ (voluntary & now job as well – that’s taking some getting used to) can be put down, something or usually someone else needs to be attended to it was like a long drink of cold water on a hot day!

I do thank God for those unexpected moments he provides which, of course, turn out to do self-care and rest so much better than anything you could have planned … and not quite achieved.

 

Love is patient, love is kind…practicing family love during lock down

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The trouble with lock down is that it is magnifying our weak spots! It is intense being together 24/7 for this length of time!! (Or is that just us – please tell me it isn’t)

Loving each other as a family cannot stay as words only, this pressurized time needs us to step up big time and become much more conscious of our actions towards each other. Not at all easy! Our actions means our tone of voice, our assumptions (often based on un-forgiven baggage lets face it), our body language and facial expressions (which of course we don’t all read in the same way which adds another layer of complexity), our acts of service and choices that affect each other.

The Bible gives us a daunting description of family love…

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

from 1 Cor 13

… and of course shows us what that love looks like in practice in the life and death of Jesus. The passage finishes with ‘LOVE NEVER FAILS’. Oh help!

Truth is, when I rely on my ability to ‘try, try, try again’ with even just one of the adjectives in the passage I run out. My fragile, incomplete ability to love is not enough to never fail my family. It is true that being a Christian is not to be perfect – but rather to know we need perfecting by the grace of God.

This week one of the new words for T in her school work at home was ‘invoke’, to actively invite and welcome in, to call upon the presence of. A word that for me conjours up a picture of embrace… which is not simply me embracing an abstract concept when it comes to God, but rather a real living, holy presence who is also actively invested in the embrace! I’m reminded of Jesus’ parable of the prodigal’s return and the Father who out ran the shame and disgrace to reach his child and clothe him with honour, and crown him with love. We are invited into an embrace full of love – love so abundantly given that there is enough to fill us to overflowing.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Col 3:12-14

We still ‘try, try, try again’ – but wrapping the clothes God gives us really close, fully embracing his loving grace-filled presence (yep – on a good day!!), allowing his love to embrace us – our thinking, our actions and words.

God’s not finished with me yet!

 

 

Book Review: Faith Lists

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I love being sent books to review!

Thank you SPCK for this very beautiful one.

I know you’re not meant to judge a book by its cover – but when this one came out of the envelope I just wanted to dive straight in. To me it seemed full of possibility as a devotional as a very busy Mum of 3, in a complicated-never-dull family trying to make the most of every opportunity to serve. It looked like the kind of devotional that would be ok to be dipped into when needed or dived in wholesale with a bar of choc and coloured pens when the opportunity arose.

Each page spread is a warm and colourful illustration, a journal prompt and a lined page for jotting.

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So this morning in between getting our youngest dressed by the TV downstairs, working out how to create a star-on-a-stick for a puppet, and prompting our eldest in & out of the shower I grabbed a pen and picked a page that seemed fairly straight forward. ‘List opportunities or possessions you are thankful for in your life’. Today this became a very neat linear list as I was reminded of all that God has placed in and around my life. It moved me to thankfulness without thinking, and there was no sense of guilt when the moment ceased and I was needed for the next thing.

For me, in this season of life (which has been quite long already and who knows how much longer it will last!) most devotionals leave me riddled with guilt. No fault of their own, its that feeling that I can’t keep up with their demand, haven’t time to really do it justice, having to leave it unfinished – or not even started, the dated page glaring at me – I’m left feeling I am a very poor example of a good devoted Christian! So to find I could leave a page having thought, prayed, and feeling no guilt was rather special.

The prompts range across prayer, scripture, worship, church fellowship; challenges, opportunities and hopes and dreams. And I think most of them could be both taken very much at face value or sat with for a while with God depending on the day, and what else is kicking off around you. Which is useful.

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The illustrations by Olivia Holden are lovely. Undemanding and inviting. Many contain Bible verses drawn out, dancing alongside you as you write and think. My instinct of course is to want to draw and doodle, and I wonder whether the lined pages might feel restricting on those days but so far that’s not been the case.

The prompts would be good to chat about with others over coffee, or good to spend some time (when you get it) with a Bible or a podcast, or a book you would like to glean from. Its a book to leave out and have to hand, to dip into when there’s an unexpected moment. And I suspect it will be one I will look back into in years to come and will be reminded of God’s faithfulness in the busy years.

You can find ‘Faith Lists, your spiritual life in lists’. Illustrated by Olivia Holden at SPCK.

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ready for voting

One of the things I am very grateful for in the way my parents brought me up is the way in which they were a safe space, wide open for discussing philosophy, ethical dilemmas, morality and our faith. We talked about news in relation to our faith, we pulled apart and put back together difficult decisions and concepts, we found out about big issues together. I’m grateful for the way that has given me permission and skills to be a thinker with faith as a seamless part of my worldview. And I hope and pray that in our parenting we are able to be that safe space for our children too. Teaching the skills and opportunities to use them, especially aware that learning will not necessarily simply happen by osmosis, by exposure, but will need intentional and supported experiences.

I’m very aware of it right now as we face a General Election and our wonderful B will be voting for the very first time. When my first opportunity to vote came along I went with my Dad who proudly announced to the whole polling station that I had arrived – and was ready to vote! Somehow I’m guessing the announcing would not go down well, but there will definitely be a huge amount of pride when we walk into the polling station together ready to cast our vote. I am certain B is aware of the privilege it is, and the importance of using it.

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So now the parenting job is to make sure we support and encourage the thinking and researching behind the using of the vote. To give her opportunities to find out and think for herself about the policies parties are standing for, through the eyes of faith. Not an easy task as a parent – perhaps even more especially as a parent with strong views! – but it is a task that doesn’t happen without context and I pray that the last 18 years of conversations and modelling; of asking the tough questions; listening to others; keeping our eyes as open as we can to the needs of others and wrestling with the difficult things together and with God – I pray that all of that will be a strong foundation out of which this next step will be taken.

Finding impartial information feels harder than ever these days, so we read more, and read and listen more widely actively working against finding ourselves in an echo chamber. And we read and listen with caution, questioningly. As parents we do this somewhat outloud, modelling the questioning and the wrestling. We also need to make space for questions, and to listen as our children begin to formulate their own opinions. The Bible urges us to invest in our community, and pray for it’s peace (it’s just-ness, and well being for all, and for its unity) to put roots down and live out our faith in ways that make a real difference to the community where we find ourselves and beyond. I am less concerned about how B decides to vote than I am that she steps up and joins in, seeing both the privilege of our democracy and the responsibility.  The vote itself is just one small moment in the ongoing active investing in community and beyond. Her voice and opinion matter, her faith-lived-out makes a difference not just here but far wider too as she steps up and joins in.

Ps 18v29