cars, mirrors and 12’s…

Featured imageThirteen driveways, and 4 roads to cross with T every walk to or from school, that’s a lot of checking and reminding!

We started with ‘stop!’, moved on to ‘stop, and check’ soon realizing we needed to spell it out we now seem to have the reminder ‘stop, look in (to the driveway or road), look out (out into the big road), (verbal reminders to watch for any moving cars, and to listen for any cars) now go over’. Which reminds T of the ‘hokey cokey’ and makes her smile!

It is surprising just how many subtleties there are to try and teach when your child just doesn’t seem to approach the inherent dangers of roads instinctively carefully – cars usually indicate with their indicators if they want to leave the big road and come into a road or driveway but quite often they don’t; cars will slow down before they manoeuver, but its difficult to be exact about how much, what it might look like, or what it would look like if they slowed down but for a different reason; cars can be moving in a driveway for all sorts of reasons, sometimes it’s ok to go, other times it’s not; when we need to stop exactly where should our feet be? what distance from the curb?, and our hands and arms?, and the scooter? it’s great to wait for a complete gap on the big road but sometimes there is enough time even though we can see a car coming, it all depends on the speed and distance; and what about those times when a car stops and waves you across, sometimes that’s fine, other times you can’t see enough of what else is happening the other side of the road so it’s not a great plan. (and of course whilst trying to find a way to teach this we are inevitably running late to get to school or we are coaxing a very tired and reluctant walker to keep going so we can get home for tea!)

I’m coming to the conclusion that the most pressing thing to teach is that cars (and lorries, tractors, bikes, motorbikes etc etc!) that are moving are dangerous, they are bigger than us, strong and fast and if they bump into us we would get very very badly hurt. I’m hoping that grasping that might mean that the other things at least seem worth trying to figure out & learn.

On a seemingly unrelated note B & A have had conversations with groups of friends this week about things people have been talking about at school – you know the kind of things, say a certain phrase looking into a mirror and you’ll see ghosts, having a go at weegie boards and the like. Needless to say A, who is often very anxious anyway, has been needing a lot of reassurance, especially getting him into the bathroom past the mirror.

It is a timely reminder that as well as recognizing the responsibility of teaching road safety, there is a lot I want to be able to explain to my kids about staying safe spiritually, staying close to Jesus – I want to begin to give them tools and strategies to help them to work out where to stand, when to stop and not go further, and when to go ahead. There are so many unique circumstances and contexts they will face in the coming years – in conversation with their friends, hanging out with their peers, books they will read, TV and films they may want to watch, activities they will be invited to join in. Like road safety there are so many nuances it is very difficult to teach ‘a rule’ that will always work, and there are so many ‘rules’ implied in our culture that get appropriated without us noticing too – some really not helpful – who knew that the day of her 12th birthday B would assume she could sit & watch every 12 rated DVD we own – and then move on to Netflix! Not a rule we would want to have taught her – so some unraveling to do, not all 12’s are suitable, but I’m 12, yes I know but it’s a guide not an instruction – turning 12 doesn’t mean you now have to watch every 12 between now and your 15th birthday when you reach the next rating’s age!! Having worked hard at reasoning that as her parents we still had a say even if the film is a 12, we now have the ongoing task of talking through each potential film choice to work out together if its a yes or a no – and perhaps most importantly, why.

A’s anxiety this week has spurred me on to at least begin to set some foundations for dealing with these kind of choices, and the emotions that come from even being there when they are discussed. For him I feel it’s most important to start from the acceptance and understanding that Jesus is bigger and stronger than anything he will ever hear talked about, than anything he’s scared by – and that as a Christian, a friend of Jesus who trusts Him and lets Him be in charge, he is held in God’s safe strong hands. Staying close to Jesus is a safe place.

 For you died [to this world], and your [new, real] life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col 3:3)

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 Jn 4:4)

The other part of that foundation though will be to gently explain that there are things (and powers) in the world around us that will distract us from God, frighten us, or worse lead us away from God and into danger. Some will be obvious, but others more subtle – and just as I hope I’m teaching T to stay well back rather than find the closest place to the edge of the curb that she can stand and still obey the rule to stop, I hope we can teach through words and example, to stay really close to Jesus rather than wondering how far away from him we can explore and still be safe in His hands.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.  (Phil 4:11)

‘gentle touch’

‘No, you can’t keep it, its a dead duck!!’

Don’t you find yourself saying the oddest things sometimes as a parent. Found myself needing this rather unexpected sentence on a family day trip looking round a National Trust property. They had used taxidermy game birds and rabbits to ‘bring the kitchen to life’ and B (our oldest) had got more than a bit mesmerized by the feel of the duck’s soft feathers, so much so that I’m sure we provided a fair amount of entertainment as we did everything we could think of to try and move her on to the next room on the tour. B has always needed to touch, she craves the sensory input. ‘Look with your eyes, not your fingers’ was a well used mantra when shopping, or in other people’s houses when she was younger – with limited success!

It can quite often be the opposite experience though with all my children, some things just can’t be touched… not always predictable, differing depending on context or stress levels, sometimes its ‘dirt’, sometimes clothes that are too ‘scratchy’ or ‘shiny’ – I have a particular pair of trousers that B in particular can’t stand, no chance of her climbing onto my knee when I’m wearing those – or it can be certain food textures that can’t be touched at all. Of course the impact of touch doesn’t stop there, there are often extreme reactions to being touched too, sometimes needing hugs so very squeezy, or to press their face up against mine so much its as if they’ve quite forgotten the basic need to breathe – other times being overloaded just by the suggestion of being touched, just being looked at feels too much, someone sitting down too near, or walking past too close, or at its worst walking towards them to help in some way gets the response ‘DON’T TOUCH ME!!!’. At either extreme touch can be a tricky business.

I’ve been asking myself how to begin translating the language of touch that we often find ourselves using about God. ‘We all need God’s touch’, ‘pray for someone who needs to feel God’s touch right now’, ‘I pray that God will touch you as we worship this morning’ – quite apart from the fact that my girl’s first thoughts will be literal interpretations, this language in the context of hypersensitivity/ hypo-sensitivity seems to me to be quite ripe for misunderstanding!  What do we mean? Why do we use the word touch when we are describing God healing us or changing us, challenging or encouraging us?

In the encounters between God and His people we read about in the Old Testament we see a picture of God’s powerful holiness – so perfect, so whole, so Other than us that to touch even a

Featured image shadow of His presence could kill (2 Sam 6:6-11) to touch even the base of the mountainside when Moses went to listen to God was so dangerous that God gave clear instructions to His people to keep them safe (Ex 19:12-13). Yet there is also the beginning of the use of the language of God’s touch there in the Old Testament as well, people who were loyal to God described as ones whose hearts had been touched by God (1 Sam 10:26). There is also the language of God’s tangible presence when encouragement from God is promised to his people:

After all, it is I, the Eternal One your God, who has hold of your right hand, Who whispers in your ear, “Don’t be afraid. I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:13)

Then Jesus comes, completely tangible; living, eating, walking and talking alongside humanity. He literally touches blind eyes and they see for the first time, ears and they hear; he picks up children who are brought to meet him and they are blessed; when a woman who is living as an untouchable reaches out and touches the edge of his clothes she is healed and he knows. After he has risen to new life, he appears to his close followers inviting the doubters to touch his wounded hands and side and know without doubt that he is alive and not a ghost. In all these encounters there is a seamless, wholeness brought about by his touch – physical healing with new perspective, new spiritual understanding, new courage, new belonging, new purpose, new insight, new hope, new relationship with God. The transformation that the ‘touch of God’ in Jesus brings, is powerful, that dangerously powerful kind of powerful we saw in the Old Testament. No one goes away unchanged. Its another amazing glimpse into grace isn’t it, the so-powerfully-holy-it-could-kill-you God reaches out towards us to help us with a gentle touch. I love the gentle image of God’s  patience in Revelation where He stands at the door and knocks, and waits for us to let Him in, this gentle touch, this encounter is not forced on us.

So when we talk about God’s touch, we are using the words to describe encounters with God’s powerful and personal presence. A presence that encourages, guides & keeps safe (holding the right hand), and powerfully heals bringing both physical and soul wholeness. For us its not with Jesus physically there actually touching us with his hand, but through the literal & real (even if unseen) presence of the Holy Spirit that we might not feel physically – though I’m not going to rule out the possibility!

Ok, so maybe I’m a bit clearer – now how to share that with the kids!!

I may have engineered a conversation or two in time to comment here! … First with B; what does it mean when we are praying and we ask God to touch someone? – um, not sure, maybe it’s when people have those wierd reactions, like God has actually touched them with his finger (pointing finger into my arm) and like the Holy Spirit has rushed into them like from a superhero… All I can say is I am looking forward to picking up where we left off! Plenty to chat about there, but interestingly literal don’t you think!

Next a conversation with T; what does it mean when we’re worshiping at church, and Daddy says come and find someone to pray with if God has touched you today? – God touches people to make them better – do you mean like when mummy has to touch your knee to clean it & put a plaster on if you fall over – no mummy (rather bemused and amused that I should make such a silly comment!) not like that, God’s hands are powerful!

Amazing, I love chatting with them about these things, always surprising – its little snippets here and there out loud together showing glimpses of all that God is showing them as they grow. So exciting…

In the midst

Once upon a time there were regular prayer walks in the early morning mists, there was time to read & digest healthy chunks of scripture each day, I met regularly with a couple of people to pray, I wrote at length in my spiritual journal – and of course as I looked forward to becoming a Mum I made plans in my head for passing on a pattern of meeting with God, using Bible reading notes and ticking them off each night, praying together before going to school, family devotions and discussions around the table. And we have had some wonderful patches where some of these tried and trusted patterns have been part of our family life, but they have definitely been very small patches and often if I am honest very fraught.

Bible reading notes have quickly become a source of stress if a day was missed for some reason, then I was faced with screaming meltdowns because we can’t go straight to the right date without completing the ones we missed, and we can’t just do the next one because its the wrong one (even in undated notes – yes we tried!) but equally we can’t finish the bedtime routine without including the notes!

Praying together before setting off for school began well when our older two were just starting out at school. We sat on the bottom step holding school bags, with coats on ready, with just a couple of minutes to spare, and even on occasion managed to include friends who for whatever reason needed to walk with us that day (- goodness those days I really felt giddy with success!) but school mornings became increasingly stressful for us as a family as the distance between our expectations of our girl’s growing independence and the reality of the level of support needed for every part of getting ready became more and more painfully apparent.

Praying together on the bottom step became less and less of a possibility. Even including God in our talking round the tea table was impossible as we discovered that our oldest simply couldn’t cope with eating and the pressure of social interaction, so we began to eat separately in our urgent need to create a space in which she could eat just something each day. All my dreams of Jesse Trees, Lenten readings, chats about the service on Sundays over a good roast seemed shattered and I found myself grieving the patterns of Christian family life I had always assumed we would have.

Putting more pressure on, the morning and evening inflexible routines with the children became so lengthy and all consuming that it has been difficult to find a creative way of consistently finding ‘quiet time’ with God myself. What a mess it became, not only the frustration and guilt of not being able to facilitate the blessing of these disciplines with my children, but also the guilt of not being able to maintain my friendship with God in the ways I had been taught or had experienced.

Then someone gave me Angela Ashwin’s book ‘Patterns not Padlocks: finding Christ among the chaos’ – how apt! and how helpful, full of practical ideas but more than that every page freed me from the sense of guilt at our lack of ability to have ‘quiet times’. I could see in our daughter’s struggles with the slight variations that every day life causes to her routines a clear picture of how patterns can slip into being something they were never meant to be, and turn from being a source of blessing and a discipline bringing freedom to grow, instead becoming something restricting and stifling – a source of stress and guilt.

Years later, and now with three children, the chaos and my girls’ all consuming need for support to face and complete so many of the ordinary tasks of every day are still very much there. But such a lot has changed within me! As I let go of the guilt I began to see grace again – and yes those who know me well will tell you this is on a good day! – achieving ‘quiet time’ did not earn God’s presence any more than facilitating those disciplines with my children guaranteed He would be at work in their lives. By His grace God’s loving presence was simply there in our midst, day after day, in the chaos, the grieving, and the few moments I saw as successful. Its a truth that my intellect had long accepted, but my habits and my feelings had not embraced the reality. All I had to do was inwardly turn to Him, and acknowledge His presence in the midst of the tasks before me. A habit I was not good at! It took practice and discipline – the Brother Lawrence kind. But like Brother Lawrence I am understanding now that this way is not an emergency measure, a second best when quiet times cannot be done; growing in awareness of God’s presence, learning again to recognize His voice in the mundane and his faithfulness in our daily circumstances good and bad, is enriching my faith in new and unexpected ways.

“He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.”
Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

In all this change because of the need for my life to be as flexible as possible to accommodate the inflexibility around me, I have been reflecting on our role as parents, not only to go on growing in faith ourselves, but to be watching for God’s presence on their behalf too. And in the same way that we often find we need to translate tone of voice or body language for the girls, we need to name these moments, translate them I suppose. Helping to articulate experiences for them when there are as yet no words. And with delayed emotional processing it can sometimes take quite a while for a new experience to even be talked about. A recent conversation went like this ‘when we were praying the other day I felt very tearful but I wasn’t sad?’ – ‘maybe that’s the work of the Holy Spirit in you?’ -‘Maybe. It didn’t upset me, I just felt extra close to God, is it the same when my arm gets all tingly when we sing praise songs?’ -‘It could be, I sometimes get that too, I think of it as God’s way of reminding me that His presence is with me, it helps me to trust Him and praise Him even more.’ – ‘But you said God’s with me all the time, but that doesn’t happen all the time?’ – ‘No it doesn’t, but it doesn’t mean God’s not with us the other times. I think he just reminds us sometimes because we worry about it, or because we forget, or because we need a hug; what do you think?’

Finding language to name our experience of God is something that will need many posts to explore, I have certainly had to think things through as if for the first time to try to unpack the many metaphors describing God in the Bible, and to try to make sense together of church vocabulary, because so much of it is not meant literally, but of course for many children – including mine! – a literal meaning is what is going to be heard first of all even for those who will be able to see thatFeatured image it may have other meanings too.

So very thankful for grace, I am so amazed that God should choose to be in the midst of our day to day (esp on the bad days!!) just waiting for us to turn and realize, ready to talk about all of it and actually delighting in us as it says in Zephaniah 3:17. I want to go on practicing being fully present in the reality of His, often unrecognized, loving presence.