Saturday, 24 January 2015

What 'get dressed and clean your teeth' really means.

It's a regular occurrence in our house.  

When I say 'get dressed and clean your teeth', somehow this is translated into several different meanings in boy language.

So far, these are the translations I have observed:

'Go and find a nerf gun and shoot your brothers.'

'Do some balloon modelling.'

'Roll around on the floor, making farting noises.'

'Create new magic tricks.'

'Run in and out of your brother's bedroom to annoy him.'

'Hide and jump out on your brother to scare him.'

'Play loud music and dance around with no clothes on.'

'Suddenly remember you need to practice your guitar.'

'Study the world map on your bedroom wall.'

'Wee on the bathroom floor after realising it has been dry for far too long and may need watering.'

'Draw on your face.'

'Sit on your bedroom floor, whistling and staring vacantly.'

'Bang bedroom doors.'

'Stand outside the bathroom while your brother is doing a poo and make grunting and groaning noises in empathy.'

'Slide down the stairs in sleeping bags.'

One day I may manage to speak their language but for now I usually communicate with sign language.  

What translations have you discovered?

Friday, 16 January 2015

Shout Louder

There's a lot of shouting that goes on in my house.  Shouting from one room to the other (my pet hate), shouting in anger, shouting in celebration and the shouting of 'STOP SHOUTING' (I admit, that's my own ridiculous phrase).  It's a noisy place and sometimes I plead with them, and even bribe them, into being quiet.

I read about a man who shouted this week.  His name was Bartimaeus and he lived on the streets on the outskirts of Jericho.  Blinded when he was younger and without the NHS or Social Services to support him, he was reduced to living the hopeless life of a beggar.  Every day people walked past him and listened to his calls for help and every day they tossed a few coins into his hands.  But this wasn't the life Bartimaeus wanted to live.  He knew there must be more to life than this.

One day he heard a big crowd of dusty feet and chattering voices making their way into the city of Jericho. 

"What's going on?"  He called out.

"It's Jesus!  He's going to Jericho!"  The crowd replied.

Bartimaeus had heard of this Jesus.  He heard all sorts of things sitting along the side of the road, and word had travelled about all the healings and miracles Jesus had performed.  He'd even heard that Jesus didn't mind who he spoke to or touched!  Suddenly, inside, he felt hope taking hold of him.  He had to speak to Jesus.

"Jesus!"  He shouted.  "Help me!"

The crowd of people turned to Bartimaeus and hushed him.

"Shhhh," they called to him, "Don't disturb Jesus now.  He's on his way to important work in Jericho.  Be quiet!"

Bartimaeus was used to being treated like this.  People were quite happy to throw him some coins to appease their conscience, but they didn't want to have to actually speak to him.  He knew he was dirty and he could even smell himself.  He spent enough time sitting and pondering his life to know that he was not someone people wanted to associate with.  But he'd heard different things about this Jesus.  No, he wasn't going to shrink into the background anymore.  This was perhaps his only chance.  He took a deep breath of courage and shouted even louder.

"Jesus!  Help me!"

This time his shouts reached the ears of Jesus and he asked the crowd to bring Bartimaeus to him.  Bartimaeus found himself in the arms of those who had just told him to be quiet.  It was a long time since anyone had touched him.  He trembled.  He had no idea what would happen next.

"What do you want me to do for you?"  Jesus asked him.

What?  Wasn't it obvious? 

Standing in front of the one who could change his life, Bartimaeus dared to tell Jesus exactly what he wanted.

"I want to see again."  He could barely make out the words. 

"Then, see!"  Jesus said.  "Your faith has healed you."

Bartimaeus opened his eyes and looked into the face of his Saviour.  Slowly his smile grew across his face and, as tears fell from his newly opened eyes, he decided there and then to follow this Jesus.  He had saved his life.

Bartimaeus was one courageous man.  He held on to hope and even when it was crushed, he shouted even louder.

Have you been told to be quiet?  Shout louder. 
Have you had your dreams crushed?  Shout louder. 
Are there things you would dare to ask Jesus if you could just speak to him?  Shout louder. 
Do you wonder if Jesus would ever associate with you?  Shout louder.
Have you been praying and asking for the same things for a long time?  Shout louder.
Are you facing impossible circumstances?  Shout louder.

Don't give up.

Jesus wants us to come to him and to ask him for the things he has put in our hearts, however impossible they seem to us.  Prayer is not a quiet, polite experience to make us feel good about ourselves, rather it is a weapon of warfare that moves God's hand and changes situations in the spiritual realms and in the world around us. 

I want to see God's kingdom of peace, joy, right-living, love and wholeness in our world today and I this year I am going to shout louder and shout harder.  I'm going to follow Bartimaeus's example and get myself to the ears of the one for whom nothing is impossible. 

Want to join me?

Friday, 2 January 2015

When dreams make us vulnerable

I may have mentioned this before, but I'm married to a dreamer.  My husband is one of those 'ten thousand ideas before breakfast' people.  He has new businesses, inventions, creative solutions to difficult problems, ideas of people to network with and ways to be a hero pulsating through his brain non-stop.  New Year is a perfect example of his well-intentioned dreaming.  One year he wrote down no less than 27 goals for the year.  Sometimes I roll my eyes at him and bring some reality ("No, I'm sorry, but you are not going to be able to meet the President today") but on the odd occasion, I allow myself to dream with him.

We're good at dreaming together.  It's even more exciting when we start to push on doors to see if our dreams can become a reality.  

But when we start to investigate our dreams, we become vulnerable.  In talking to people about our dreams and hearing their responses we feel like we are laying bare our hearts before them and asking them to understand us.  And they often don't.  Sometimes our dreams are trampled across with well-meaning reality.

A lifetime ago our wedding invitations were, very aptly, adorned with this quote from W.B Yeats' poem 'He wishes for the cloths of heaven':

I have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Our dreams won't always become a reality.  They may take us in different directions which others don't quite understand.  They might cause us to make unusual decisions.  They sometimes make us look crazy.  We might live life with different priorities to other people.  We might parent our children in different ways because of them.  They make us vulnerable to ridicule.

But if we spread our dreams under your feet and lay our hearts bare before you, please tread softly because our dreams are fragile, precious and God-given and we need you to hold our hands as we tiptoe across and journey into them. 

Thursday, 18 December 2014

When children become gods

A few weeks ago my very astute and surprisingly wise middle son made this remark to me: 

Mum, I think some people turn their children into gods.

It hit me like a nerf bullet in the stomach.

Questioning a future that was entirely different to the one I had expected, including a possible move to another nation at the 'wrong time' in our boys' education, I realised that perhaps I was doing exactly that.

This particular (middle) son is also known in our house for his 'not now' phrase.  

"Max, go and clean you teeth."
"Not now."
"Max, empty the bins please."
"Not now."
"Max, time for a shower."
"Not now."

You get the drift.

And in my "not now" of disobedience I had put my boys before God.  I had put their (perceived by me) needs before my obedience to the One who knows their needs so much better than me.

"Not now God," I had said " Toby is a teenager!"
"Not now God, Jonah is settled in his school!"
"Not now God, Max is difficult enough to cope with in this country let alone another one!"
"Not now God,  Toby wants to go to his end of year prom!"

And in my disobedience, I had made my children my gods.

Opening my Bible, I read about another young man,  Daniel.  Taken from his home and his culture, Daniel ended up in the courts of the Babylonian King.  Despite the pressures to conform, Daniel resolved in his heart that he wouldn't 'defile himself' by eating food that was unclean and he decided to just eat vegetables instead of all the rich foods offered to him.  Explaining this to the palace official was not easy.  The official argued that Daniel would be under nourished and far worse off on this restricted diet.

So, Daniel made a deal with him and he was able to try this diet for ten days.  Of course, after ten days he was far more healthy and better nourished than the other men in the palace and so Daniel was allowed to continue with his strange food habits.

As I read this story, I realised three things:

1. Daniel was resolved.
2. He made a choice which others didn't understand.  He had decided to follow his God and, even if he was worse off, he chose to trust God for his health.
3. The risk paid off and following God, despite the sacrifices, was actually better for him than if he had to continue to just fit in and do what everyone else was doing.

Daniel was known for his unswerving faith.  He gave up 'good things' because he chose to live a radical life of obedience to his God and in the end it was better for him.  The 'good' was replaced by the 'even better'.

And so whilst I had all these good plans and ideas for my boys and their futures, I realised that more than anything else I wanted them to live a life like Daniel - resolved, trusting God and being obedient to Him.  I couldn't make them and their futures my god anymore and yet again I had to put them back into the very safe palm of God's hands, wherever that would take them.

No more 'not nows'.  When God says 'do', I want to be able to 'do' instead of thinking of all my (very good) excuses.  My children are not my gods.  They are with us on the mission and as I keep putting them back into God's hands, I am excited about the 'even better' that He has planned for them.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

All is calm, all is bright?

The films and adverts depict beautiful scenes of smiling families (one boy, one girl) laughing together as they decorate their Christmas tree. You can feel the love emanating from the screen. It's what Christmas is all about, isn't it? Precious family time, bringing peace and good cheer.

You'd think.

I'm guessing then that fighting over who will put the star on the tree, taking it off again when somebody else has put it on and then rolling across the floor howling isn't what normal families experience. 

And what about the putting together of the (bargain, and still going strong) fake tree? Do the pieces get thrown on the floor in a strop because the person 'fluffing up the branches' can't do it properly? I've never seen that on a Christmas film.

Do the tangled Christmas tree lights cause tears of frustration on the adverts? So knotted up, they are just asking to be thrown across the room, surely. And once around the tree, the person who will remain nameless, suddenly remembers it's a good idea to check they work first. They don't. 

To encourage the festive cheer, one child plays 'frosty the snowman' loudly from you tube. Unfortunately it is so loud that we have to shout at each other to be heard. Causing more of a frosty atmosphere than the snowman would have liked.  Just stay quiet, Frosty, you're not helping.

'No-one's letting me do anything!' Shouts the youngest, flopping to the floor in tears before running upstairs to his bedroom.

'I'm not sure I can live with that for the next three weeks' whispers the parent looking at the star lights randomly stuck over the window in no particular order.  The boy who'd huffed and puffed over the star lights heard the whispered comment, shook his head and stomped up the stairs leaving the parent feeling guilty.  I've never seen that in the Christmas Downton.

And the tinsel fights? 'He's got more tinsel in his room than me! MUM!! Will you tell him?!!!' 

And so, expectations of a joyous family activity lead to raised blood pressure and stress levels that could reach Santa's sleigh.

Maybe tomorrow we can be the family on the telly.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Protective Parenting?

Sometimes we've been misunderstood in our parenting.  Criticised, even, by people who don't quite see where we are coming from.  

Because we've never been the type to hover over our children while they are on climbing frames.  When they have wanted to leap over a stream, and we can see they probably won't make it, we've never stopped them.  (I think our washing machine might wish we had).  When it was time to learn to cross roads, we taught them to do it themselves rather than keeping a tight hold of their hands.  When the tree has been swaying because they are sitting in the topmost branches, we have cheered them on in their climbing accomplishments. 

And when God tells us to take them on a plane and visit a country totally alien to them, we share it with them and they jump into it with the gusto they use to jump the streams.

India's not a normal holiday destination, that's for sure.  There was no way we could shield them from the pleading eyes of the ragged girl tapping on the car window, begging for money.  We couldn't ask them to look the other direction when we passed the strips of material on the side of the road that served as family homes.  We couldn't put ear plugs in their ears when we listened to the stories of young girls who had been sexually exploited and trafficked.  There was no way we could leave them behind when we climbed onto the crowded bus full of street children and spent the day washing them, feeding them and helping them learn.  Our boys were there and together our hearts were broken several times over.

We couldn't protect them from the horrors and injustices of the world.  

Do I regret it?  Was it a mistake to expose them to such heart-ripping sadness?

Oh no.  Rather than wounding them, their hearts have grown immeasurably.  They have seen and heard so much more than so many of their friends at school and their compassion comes from a knowing.  They talk from experience now and when they pray for other nations, they pray with a maturity that surprises me.  When we talk about giving to others, they are generous with their time, money and possessions.  This Christmas, when the extravagant worship of money and consumerism threatens to take over, they have spent each day thinking of others and choosing ways to give.  And we are in this together.  

Our family adventure is a shared one.  And I love sharing this gift with them because I know, without a doubt, that it will better for them than if we had tried to keep them closeted.  Ultimately, we can't protect them but we trust them into the hands of our God and we know that whatever He asks of us as a family, they are fully protected there.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

A Story of Surprises

This year has surprised me.

Some years whizz by.  When you look back you can't remember anything other than school runs, busy workdays, even busier weekends, grumpy children, smiling children and toilets that need cleaning again the second after you just finished cleaning them.

Other years seem to be pivotal.  You get married.  You have a baby.  You graduate.  You move house.  Those years are like the foundational stones in the story of your life.

But, for me, this year has been surprising.

My prayer for this year has been this:

Be the author of my story. 

Perhaps because I am a writer, this feels more poignant to me.  I know that when I write a story, I can create characters exactly the way I want them to be.  I can send them wherever I choose.  I can give them obstacles to overcome.  I hold the pen and I breath life into them.

And letting go of the penmanship of my life has brought changes and events that have, quite honestly, sometimes shocked me.

There have been fast-paced times, full of action and adventure which have taken my breath away. 

There have been slower, careful times which have brought pause, rest and nourishment.

There have been twists and turns which have caused me to lean deeper into the only One who is steady and hold on tight. 

There have been weeks and months of heavy, thick and confusing fog where I couldn't see the next step and didn't know how we would reach any kind of goal. The Author didn't have writers block but sometimes it felt that way and so I had to lean in harder, trust more and keep giving back the pen instead of snatching back into my little hands.

And there have been times when my heart has been so wrecked, so sore and so pained by the events I have witnessed around me that all I could do was lie flat on my face and sob whilst the heart of the Author has been breathed into mine and I have felt His compassion, His anger at injustice and His love.

And now this year is coming to a close, I can see how it all fits together.  All year, it has felt like separate chapters, not merging and sometimes even from a completely different story.  But now, looking backwards and forwards into the next year, I am surprised at the intricate weaving of a story which never started with me, and won't finish with me.

Because it's not my story.  It's His, and I am overwhelmingly grateful to be a part of it.