Friday, 15 July 2016

Why We Haven't Bought A New Dishwasher

Several weeks ago our dishwasher died. Full of greasy bacon pans and plates from a Saturday morning men's prayer breakfast, it just gave up. I can understand this. I would've given up too. My heart sank. Yet another expense to pay out. It hadn't even occurred to me that washing up longer term might be an option. 

I spent the whole weekend washing up. This made me feel very cross. I had now become the dishwasher. 

So, I devised a rota. Everyone is on the rota at least twice - once for washing and once for drying. And, guess what? We've actually started to quite like this arrangement. 

Here's what we've learnt:

1. As the boys have grown older, they have started to slope off after mealtimes and we don't see them. If they're on the washing up rota, they have to hang around even longer than the meal which makes family time last longer.

2. Washing and drying up together gives us chance to chat. Time together is becoming more rare now they want to be with their mates instead of us boring and embarrassing parents, but this time working together gives a precious opportunity for one to one talking. Oh the revelations we've discovered in the last few weeks....!

3. Drying up whilst a particular child is washing gives us an excellent (and breath-holdingly uncomfortable) chance to learn patience as they leave the hot water running and squeeze half the bottle of washing up liquid into one plate. 

4. Our boys had no idea how to wash up. Seriously. I was shocked. They can do their own laundry, clean toilets, empty bins, cook meals and hoover but they couldn't wash up!  It was a sharp learning curve. 

5. My kitchen actually looks tidier. Instead of everything piling up ready for the dishwasher, it's washed, dried and put away and it leaves the kitchen clean.

6. It doesn't take as long as I expected. Ten minutes max (unless Max is washing up, and then it's slightly longer due to the   extra time added when he is surprised each time he is told he has to wash everything and 'no, you haven't finished yet'.).

7.  Glasses are really quite breakable in the slippery soaped-up but enthusiastic hands of an eight year old. 

8. Tea-towel whip fights can leave quite nasty marks.  The wetter the tea-towel, the redder the mark. Bet you didn't know that.


And so, we might not actually go back to having a dishwasher.  Rather than being another expense to pay, we've actually gained masses.

Will we ever have a dishwasher again?  Ask me in another few months... the novelty may have worn off and we may have no glasses left...

Monday, 11 July 2016

Say 'No' to Squandering (For my teenage friends)

Since joining some social media sites, I have had a growing horror in my insides at the photos that are posted online and over the last few weeks this has developed into a letter to not only my incredible and beautiful teenage friends but to a whole generation who holds no value for purity and who are being failed by adults who have not explained there is always an option to say 'no'. 

So, here's the letter:

To My Teenage Friends,

Imagine the scene.

You have a shiny new phone – the latest upgrade.  It’s your constant communication tool with friends and family.  There is no other way to be contacted and all your important information is stored in your phone.  Not to mention all your music.  It’s precious, so you treat it with care.  If you were to go to the London underground where there are big signs everywhere saying ‘Pick pockets in operation’ you would keep your phone safe.  You would not let a corner of your phone peek out of your bag, just to tempt the thieves.  You wouldn’t flash it around so they know you’ve got it.  Of course you wouldn’t!

Your virginity and purity is the same.  Except that phones are replaceable and your virginity is not.  Once it’s gone, it is gone forever. There are thieves in operation all around the world – in our nation and other nations.  Don’t throw this away when, for other women it is being violently stolen day after day and sometimes hour after hour. 

How do we know it is so precious?  Sit in a room with one of these women, as I have, and hear her sobbing as she speaks of her pain at this precious, most intimate part of her being stolen.  If it was easy to throw away, like an old crisp packet at the bottom of our handbags, then there would be no heartache.  There would be no need to be afraid of men.  There would be no need to feel anxious about going out of the house in case it happens again. You would not feel like a captive to your own past.  Your life would not be affected in any way by throwing away an old, useless object.

But this? 

This is to be prized.  This is to be kept sacred.  This is to be cherished and treasured, not wasted in the pursuit of ‘fitting in’ or wanting to grow up. 

The thieves are prowling, ready to steal your purity.  Don’t give them a sneak peek by posting naked selfies online.  Don’t give yourself away just for a laugh.  Don’t seek value in what others say about you.  You are worth more than that.  The women who’ve had their purity stolen know all about worth.  They feel worthless now that it’s been taken.  You can say no, they couldn’t.  You have a choice, they didn’t.

Value yourself.  Value your virginity.  Keep it safe as your treasure until it's the right time to give away to someone who adores you for the incredible person you are.  Stop squandering yourself.  You are loved.  Your life has value.  You are beautiful and courageous and clever.  There is more to you than pouting selfies.  There is more, so much more, to your life.  You are free to choose.

Say no to squandering. 

Say yes to freedom.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Loving children with holes in their buckets - Guest Post

My big sister is one of my real life heroes.  She is far more patient than me, far more kind and she is one of 'those' mums with a tidy house  calming environment.  She is mum to two boys, adopted into our extended family as babies and loved as our own.  As a family they have been on a journey over the last few years and her texts never fail to leave me open mouthed and speechless at her enduring, committed, compassionate love for her boys.  Today she has written a guest post which I know you will love as much as I do, so sit down, open your hearts and listen to her passionate wisdom.

We all know the song…

                There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
                There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole.
                Then mend it dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
                Then mend it dear Henry, dear Henry, mend it.
                With what shall I mend it dear……… ?
    and so on!

Liza and Henry then go through a whole set of solutions only to find that the water still seeps through the holes.  In the end, the only answer is to buy a nice, shiny, new bucket.

Imagine that we have an invisible bucket above our heads.  Every time something goes well - a kind word spoken to us, a helping hand, something that makes us smile - our bucket, drip by drip, fills up. But when things go wrong - we have a bad day, we have an argument or cross words with someone we love - the buckets tips up and water drips out, leaving us with less. The important thing is to keep our bucket topped up, so we don’t run dry. Topping up our buckets can also happen when we show love and care to others around us. It is mutually beneficial. We top up others and that tops us up too. God enriches and satisfies us and others by this process.

However, imagine someone with a rusty, dented and full of holes bucket above their head.  No matter how much we love them by pouring praise and encouragement on them, protecting them, giving them security, having fun and laughing and giving endless amounts of time to them it all leaks through the holes instead of filling up their bucket.  It is an endless cycle that never stops. They are constantly running down to empty and always needing more. Whatever is poured in is never enough.

There are precious children who have these leaky buckets, simply because they were carried in their mother’s womb and born into a situation and environment that was beyond their control. A hostile, chaotic and sometimes dangerous place. They are born needing to fight or fly. It is in their hard wiring. They are born needing to be nurtured and loved but are removed from every familiar sight, sound, smell, touch and taste that they have known (albeit necessary for their survival and safety). They are separated and the bond is broken.  They feel abandoned. The holes were already forming in their bucket before they were born, whilst they were developing and growing. They are damaged and now abandoned. They are placed in an alien environment and fostered or adopted into another family.

As they grow, they are not aware of why they find things so hard, why life is challenging and difficult and why they feel different. They don’t understand why they can’t trust and feel safe even with the ones they love. They know about their adoption and history and why it has happened  but they have no conscious memory of what happened to them; only the deep, gut wrenching shame, pain and confusion that developed deep inside their baby brain and innermost being. All the good and positive love that is lavished and poured into them disappears through the holes and drains away. There is a residue that sticks to the side of the bucket. They know they are in a family who love them - their head knows this but their heart is unable to accept it.

Living with children whose buckets are full of holes is tough. They require unconditional and sacrificial love. Giving up everything for them and not expecting much in return. Knowing that the process will need to be repeated day after day.  It’s heart breaking, gut wrenching, painful to watch them.  It stirs up anger as to why this should have happened to them. We feel disappointment, despair and utter sadness to witness their pain and hurt. To put yourself in their shoes even for a moment is desperately painful  but knowing that they live and feel like that all the time, day and night, is truly mind boggling. Scared, anxious, confused, unsafe, unwanted, carrying huge fears, angry, suicidal, unvalued, insecure, shameful and sad.

BUT…… What a great word! There’s so much more that can come next. There is hope….

We have a super abundant Father God who is Father to the fatherless, who sets the lonely in families, whose idea of adoption into his family as sons and daughters gives us a picture of God’s heart. Adoption is a good thing! He will bind up the broken hearted, bring healing of the past, repair and renew and give a hope and a future. God is able to do MORE than we can ask or imagine. God’s story is already written.  He is the author and perfector. God’s plans are secure and steadfast. No-ones birth is an accident or a mistake. Even with the most difficult start, God’s plan was there. He knew, He works all things together for good. God is in the business of supplying wonderful, shiny, new buckets from his heavenly store. Buckets with no holes where truth, joy and peace cannot run out. Buckets that can be refilled without leaking. Buckets that are resilient enough to cope with life’s challenges. Buckets that can be topped up again and again. Full buckets that allow the person to be free to top up other’s buckets.

So, we look forward to the day when those buckets are complete.  Its drawing nearer and nearer. We see so many glimmers of hope, healing, restoration and brand new shiny buckets.

We don’t do this in our own strength - oh no!! Our strength would have run out a very long time ago. No, we do it in God’s strength, where all things are possible.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.


He is more than enough.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Reformer

It was tucked away in the second hand shop with a pile of junk precariously balanced on the top. Nobody would have noticed it.  Nothing special, it reminded me of my Nana's flat - musty smelling and covered in dust.

But I saw it.  Beneath the brown veneer, I saw purpose.  I saw beauty and I saw something I needed.  So, I surprised the staff by asking for it to be dug out from underneath the pile, obviously not been moved for a long time.  And they very kindly deposited it into my car.

You see, I needed a particular sized cabinet for our television.  I wanted to create something that would be my 'statement of intent' for the way I wanted our new lounge decorated.  And I saw huge potential in this hidden gem.

Taking it home, I sanded it down, ripping off the veneer and taking it back to the bare wood.  Painting it again, I remembered my friend's words to me a few weeks ago.  Words I had doubted in the weeks following our mugs of camping coffee.

"You are a reformer." 

And as I painted over the bare wood, breathing life into dry bones, I realised that those words are true.

I AM a reformer.  I see things that others don't see, and I have chosen to spend my life bringing those things into being.

My heart has been wrecked for those who are invisible to others, cowering under the pile of their shame, hoping nobody sees them.  My prayers have become unutterable groans for those who, stripped back to nothing but their pain, are ignored by the rest of the world - a world who wants shiney and new.  I find myself sobbing at the extent of the death-stories that I read and hear. I weep in Nandos with my friend telling me about Yazidi women pleading to be killed because of the shame they feel. I weep in the local cafe thinking about my new friend so devastated by abuse.  I weep for terrorists and the terrorised.  I weep for the abused and the abusers.  And I have to pull over in the car because I can't see where I'm going anymore, my tears have become so violent and my stomach feels as though I have been kicked hard.

But where others see death and shame, I see hope and beauty.  When I feel the deep pain and mourning belonging to someone else, I also see the bright future that could be ahead of them.  When I hear about sadness that never goes away, I see a deep well of joy that can never be quenched.  When I see the pile of those dry bones, so strangely written about by the prophet Ezekiel, I see life and action.  When I see illness, I see healing.  Where others see something dirty which shouldn't be touched, I see treasure.  When I hear about people locked in their own prison, I see freedom flinging wide those prison doors.  When I listen to my friends' stories that cause me to so weep, I know without a doubt that there is hope.

So, I make my choices.

I choose to dig out the potential, the beauty, the joy, the purpose and see lives reformed.

I choose to treat the 'nothing special' like royalty.

I choose to take the pain I so violently feel and turn it into action.

I choose to speak life and truth over dry bones.

I choose to look for hope.

I choose to find the treasure.

I choose to do all I can to change the world.

I choose to be a reformer,




Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Consumed?

I try hard not to live with regrets.  I don't allow myself to regret, for example, the tough years of post-natal depression and the way I parented during that time.  I don't allow myself to wallow in the 'what ifs' of decisions we have made about where to live or jobs to take.

But I do sometimes wish things had been different.  I do sometimes live with sadness for the way some things have turned out.

I feel sad about the ones I love who are hurting.
I feel sad about the outcomes of choices made by those who are precious to me.
I feel sad when I see the consequences of those choices.
I feel sad when I realise that I can only control myself and I can't control others.
I feel sad when I read the news on my phone (thankfully I don't have to watch it on TV) and there is yet more violence, hatred and death.
I feel sad when my beautiful friend, living with the horrors of war, tells me stories that are almost too painful to hear and cause me to sob in the middle of Nandos.
I feel sad when I think about the lives of millions turning into ashes because of an evil system of slavery which causes fear at best and destroys at its worst.

Sometimes this sadness threatens to overwhelm.  I find it hard to focus on the boys playing in the sunshine.  I can't smile when they bring me picked daisies in a plastic cup of water. I linger just a little bit too long when they hug me and have tears in my eyes as they pull away.  I function on automatic because that's the only way to get through.

And then I remember this.

"My soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.

Because of the Lord's great love, we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning:
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion;
Therefore I will wait for him'."

(Lamentations 3:23)

So, I google what 'consumed' means and I find this:


consume
kənˈsjuːm/
verb
past tense: consumed; past participle: consumed
  1. 1.
    eat, drink, or ingest (food or drink).
    "people consume a good deal of sugar in drinks"
    synonyms:eat, eat up, devouringestswallowgobble, gobble up, wolf down, gorge oneself on, feast on; More
    • (of a fire) completely destroy.
      "the fire spread rapidly, consuming many homes"
      synonyms:destroydemolish, lay waste, wipe out, annihilatedevastateMore
    • use up (a resource).
      "this process consumes enormous amounts of energy"
      synonyms:use, use up, utilizeexpendMore
  2. 2.
    buy (goods or services).
    "accounting provides measures of the economic goods and services consumed"
  3. 3.
    (of a feeling) completely fill the mind of (someone).
    "Carolyn was consumed with guilt"
    synonyms:absorbpreoccupyengrossMore
Origin




And I speak this truth to myself.

I am sad, but I am not devoured by sadness.
I feel sadness which threatens to overwhelm, but I am not completely destroyed by it.
My sadness does not 'altogether take up' my life.  It does not need to fill my mind totally.
I may feel 'spent' and 'used up' but God has promised to be my enough so it doesn't matter if I use up all my resources - His are utterly limitless.
When I begin to wallow, he whispers his I'm-not-going-to-let-you-down-promises into my ear and I begin to take tentative steps towards hope.
My heart might be hurting, but his compassions never stop loving, never stop feeling the hurts and never stop pouring out mercy.  

I am not consumed.

So instead of having my mind blown by the sadness, I choose to have it blown by the truth.  
A truth which sets me free, every single time.




Saturday, 9 April 2016

Better Is One Day....

There are many times as a mum when I would rather be somewhere else. 

When a toddler is screaming in the middle of the supermarket, for example. 

Or perhaps when the teacher calls 'Can I have a word?' at home-time and points in your direction. 

Or when everyone wants to watch yet another action film full of banging and shooting.

Or when you can't even lock yourself in the bathroom without a little hand working its way underneath the door.

Or when the arguments and bickering never seem to stop.

Or when you find yourself playing musical beds in the middle of the night (often with vomit involved).

Sometimes, anywhere is better than the present. 

And over the years I have used this verse as mantra to get me through the difficult days and the long nights:

"Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere." Psalm 84 v 10

I have held on to the hope-filled promise that being in God's presence is always better.  In those moments of desperation when I have wanted to run away (ok, I have actually escaped several times only to realise that I'd run from the ones who loved me), I have clung on tightly to the promise of one day being in a place where there are no tears or pain.  When depression has threatened to pull me beneath swirling waters, this verse has been my last gulp of air. 

And then last week, I lay on a beautiful beach under blue skies having slept well and enjoyed a lazy morning and I realised this was what I had been longing for.  It was peaceful (when I blocked out the noise of the arguments over SAND) and I felt happy.

 
And I suddenly became aware that even my best, most joy-filled, peaceful and perfect moments do not even compare to being in the presence of God.  It eclipses them every single time. 

Perhaps this is not a shocker of a revelation to you.  Perhaps this has always been obvious.  But for me, realising the depth of God's goodness, grace and love for me in allowing me to hang out with him was a game-changer. 

I don't just need to cling to this verse on dark days.  It's not just a promise for better days to come, it's an invitation for the now.  It's an invitation to do life, every-day-good-and-bad-life, in God's presence.  It's knowing that everything I do now, comes out of being in the refreshing courts of God.  It's being replenished so that I can keep giving.  I don't have to 'hang on in there' for God's presence.  Jesus made a way for me to walk straight in - the doors are opened and there are welcome signs everywhere.

I'm heading straight through that open door.  Want to join me?

Thursday, 17 March 2016

When giving seems impossible....

A few weeks ago I found myself visiting the '2pm club' at the local Baptist church.  Members of this club are well beyond retirement age and they enjoy a speaker, a cuppa and a cake.  I was asked to speak about our house and human trafficking.  Not quite knowing how to pitch my talk, I explained what we are doing and why it is so important.  I was pleased to have engaged them (only one person fell asleep).  During the question time at the end, one lady spoke up and told me she had been thinking of a story in the Old Testament that she thought was relevant for us.

Elijah, one of the prophets of Israel and seemingly an all round nutcase, visited a very poor widow.  He asked her for something to eat.

"I haven't got anything left," she replied.  "I'm just making one more meal for myself and my son before we starve."

"Give me what you have," Elijah promised, "and you will never run out again."

And guess what?  She gave Elijah her very last meal.  This hungry widow who felt death by starvation tapping her on the shoulder.  She just gave. 

And she never ran out.  The flour and the jar of oil always had more in them.

At the time I was feeling emotionally dry.  I felt like I had nothing left to give.  I thought it an encouragement to keep going.  Little did I know what was really meant by it...

The very next day, looking at our finances, Jared explained to me that we wouldn't be able to give our usual monthly amount because by doing so we would have nothing left two weeks into the month.  Nothing to live on to feed our constantly hungry boys or to pay the bills.  We had also paid out a huge amount of money to fix the many leaks in the house over the last few months.  We were at the very end in every possible way.  I remembered the story of the widow and, after thinking and praying it through, we decided to give anyway and trust God to provide for us to scrape through to the end of the month. 

And for two weeks the anxiety built.  I tried not to panic.  Each bill we paid brought us closer to zero.  So, we told our boys and we stood together in the kitchen, reminding God of his promises to provide for us.  I think at that point the boys had more faith than me.

Two days later, we had a deposit in our bank account of £50. 
Three days later, we had a deposit in our bank account of £250. 
Six days later, we came downstairs in the morning to find an envelope filled with £300 on our doormat.
Ten days later, we had a payment for £368.
Eleven days later, we had a knock at the door at breakfast and someone handing us £250 and then a deposit of £450 in our bank account later that day.

This is more than scraping through!

Every single time, we have thanked our faithful God and asked him to bless those who have given to us.  He has given back to us more than six times the amount we gave at the beginning of the month.  It has truly been an awesome rollercoaster of trust.  Not only has he provided for us, but he is depositing enormous faith in the hearts of my boys.  Their foundations will not be shaken for they have seen with their very own eyes the real answers to their prayers.

Faith exists in the realms of the impossible and we are certainly living in those realms.  There is nothing in what we are doing with our home that we can do by relying on our own strength or abilities.  It is impossible but we choose to live this way because we serve a God for whom nothing is impossible.  And it's a pretty exciting way to live too!

The '2pm club' gave me far more than I gave to them on that chilly Wednesday afternoon a few weeks ago.  And I am more grateful than the words my fingers can type.

And our story continues....