Friday, 20 November 2015

In our pain-ridden world, how can we think about Christmas?

The slaughter of young children.
A tyrannical, paranoid leader.
Families fleeing to cling onto a remnant of safety.
Fear and corruption.
Violence and extremism.

Sound familiar?

Into this world, so similar to today, a baby was born in a little town in the Middle East called Bethlehem.    The power-crazed leader, so jealous for his throne, set his soldiers the bloodthirsty task of slaughtering every boy under two years old.  To save their son's life, the family fled to Egypt where they lived until the reign of terror ended when King Herod the 'Great' died.

Jesus was a refugee.  When I see the photographs of desperate parents, arms wrapped as tight as they can be around their young ones, I look into their traumatised eyes and imagine the eyes of his mother, Mary.   Jesus was born into a world of fear and he grew up under Roman rule as an 'outsider'. It wasn't like the Christmas carols tell us.  It was a violent world, full of war, death and terror.

It was like our world.  

And Jesus came into that world to love the ones nobody else loved.  He arrived on the scene to point terrified people to a peace that they could find even when war was raging around them.  He touched the diseased, dirty ones that others walked past, holding their noses.  He brought hope into the lives of the ones who never even knew hope existed for people like themselves.  He shocked by teaching his followers to love the very people who hate them.  He talked of a different way to live - a way that brought life even though death was a reality.  He brought freedom to a world trapped in dictatorships and persecution.  He called the children to him.  He spoke out against the hypocrites.  He loved the fraudsters and the sex workers into a new dignity.  

And who are we, his church?  We are his body.  That means that what he did when he walked the dusty roads and talked such radical sense is what we are meant to be doing now.  

We can't turn a blind eye or pretend none of this is happening.  We can't pick and choose who we love.  We can't sit back and hope that 'someone else' sorts it out.  We can't wait.

If we follow Jesus, then we do what he did.

It's quite simple. This is who we are.

And this is our response to Christmas.  It's more than decorations, presents and even time with family. It's being who we're meant to be.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Whispered Words

I never knew my Grandad properly.  Oh yes, we'd had fun together and made memories.  But at eighteen you don't think you need to ask anything from an old man.  You think you already know everything there is to know about the world.  It never occurs to you that they have lived a whole life before you came along.  You never ask them how they did life.

And so today, as I remember my Grandad with a mischievous twinkle in his eye and a fierce faith in his heart, I wonder what he would say to us today with the challenges we face.  In the busy-ness of our lives full of heartache and joy, how I wish I could sit down with him now and pluck the wisdom that must have been oozing from his very being.  

Then I think of the words of a hymn we sung at his funeral.  And I realise these are the exact words he would be saying to us now, his grandchildren, his heritage.

Fight the good fight with all thy might!
Christ is thy strength and Christ thy right;
Lay hold on life, and it shall be
Thy joy and crown eternally.

Run the straight race through God's good grace,
Lift up thine eyes and seek His face;
Life with its way before us lies
Christ is the path and Christ the prize.

Cast care aside, lean on thy Guide;
His boundless mercy will provide;
Trust, and thy trusting soul shall prove
Christ is it's life and Christ it's love.

Faint not, nor fear, His arms are near,
He changeth not, and thou art dear;
Only believe and thou shalt see
That Christ is all in all to thee.

And these words, whispered to me as though he is sitting right in my kitchen, throw me back into the arms of the One I lean on.  My Grandad is celebrating now.  His fight is over.  But ours continues and so we trust, we lean, we lift up our eyes and we run our race surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on with the hope of our prize before us.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Dark Days of Post Natal Depression

Can't you just smile and put your worries to the back of your mind?  
Or maybe you should just drag yourself out of bed and you will feel better?  
Or just pray more.  That should do the trick.  
Haven't you got enough faith?  
It's a choice, surely?  

Mental illness is still so misunderstood and such a taboo so I have decided to write about my experiences and even include some telling photographs.  Pictures explain more than words ever could.  My memories are raw but I want people to know that this is real.  We can't shut it away.  There are women in our communities suffering right now.    

Almost 14 years ago, my beautiful boy was born after a traumatic emergency caesarean and my first words on seeing him were 'is that mine?'  This baby was like an alien to me and I was a disappointment.

No amount of antenatal classes or well meaning advice could have prepared me for the weeks and months of darkness that followed.  Post natal depression took over as irrational and scarily angry thoughts swirled through my mind.  I resented the intrusion of this screaming baby who never slept.  I cared for his daily needs but I didn't feel this mythical surge of love for him I was meant to feel.  I watched other new mums cooing over their babies and felt jealous.  Instead of nursery rhymes, I sung songs of destruction over him and thought about how to escape.  

Some days I raged and cried.  Some days I numbly got on with the tasks in hand.  I knew I had already failed and he was only months old.  I was never going to be the mum he needed, so what was the point in trying?  Actually, he would be better off without me.

Support came from my health visitor and a few friends, but no amount of cups of tea and putting on brave smiles ever removed the emptiness, anger, guilt and sense of failure I felt.  

It was only after a dramatic sleepless night where my anger spilled over to my precious baby that my kind and patient husband marched me to the GP who prescribed anti depressants and counselling.  By that point I was so numb and so desperate that I followed like a sheep.  

And slowly, slowly, over time, the days began to be less dark.  I discovered I could find joy in small things again.  I could sing songs of hope and faith over him.  I began to fall in love with my little boy.  And, instead of finding me rocking in a dark corner after his return from work, my faithful husband would see I had made the tea or hung the washing out.

I began to heal.

Post natal depression is an illness.  
It is not a choice. 
It is not simply tiredness (although sleep deprivation certainly doesn't help).  
It is not difficulty adjusting.  
It is not a lack of faith.  
It is not laziness.  
It is not failure.  

And there is hope.  

My boy, almost 14, stands taller than me.  His grin makes my heart melt inside.  He sleeps.  He makes me laugh.  He makes me so proud I want to shout to the world about him.  He hugs me with his long gangly arms at just the right moments.  Despite my failings and my illness, he has exceeded all my expectations.  

And that surge of love isn't mythical anymore.  It happens every day.

If you are suffering post natal depression, get some help from your GP.  Take someone else with you to the appointment so they can help you to explain what is happening.  You are not a failure.  Hold on tight.  It's not going to last forever, I promise.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Setting Sail

Our holiday this year was eventful.  Camping in Dorset on the site with the UK's most unhygienic toilets (I will not go into detail, suffice to say we nicknamed them the '$#€¥holes'.). We experienced beauty, hot sunshine, relaxing beaches, drenching rain and the occasional breathtaking sunset.

Without a doubt, my favourite excursion was to visit a lighthouse on Portland.  Jutting out on a cliff edge, this lighthouse is still in use and we (much to the boys delight - 'this is boring mum, why can't we just explore it ourselves?') took a guided tour to the very giddy top. The view was extravagant.  Open, glittering seas.  Bright blue skies.  Endless possibilities.

As we made our way round, singing a well know Rend Collective song just to embarrass our teenage son, we found this poster.

This tickled all my bones of adventure so I immediately snapped a photograph and lodged the quote at the back of my mind to ponder.

Speaking a few days later to some friends who have spent years working on boats across the world, I discovered an interesting fact:

If a boat is moored in the harbour for too long, it rots away.  Not only is a boat not built for staying safe at the shore, if it hangs around longer than necessary it is detrimental to the very workings of the boat. My learned friends went even further and explained to me that the Captains they knew would choose to 'island hop' with their boat rather than keep it in one place for too long because of the negative effects to both the boat and the crew.


I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.

As followers of Jesus and as a church, we are not called to stay safe in the harbour.  We are called to go.  Our lives are not supposed to be 'safe' but we have the opportunity to partner with a God who takes us on the most thrilling adventure we could ever go on.  

I know that, for me, when I stay still for too long I begin to rot.  I become introspective.  I find myself becoming anxious about circumstances beyond my control.  I trip up over small obstacles.  I begin to think rotten thoughts which in turn start coming out of my mouth.  I feel dragged down by an anchor that holds me back rather than being set free by the wind in my sails.

But when I look out to sea from the heights of the lighthouse, I see adventure waiting.  I see the unknown beckoning it's finger to me and calling me to set sail.  I see the potential for storms and for calm waters.  

see a whole, broken, bleeding world and I know that I cannot stay safe in the harbour anymore.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

A Million Years

I thought I had it cracked.  

When they were younger, I had a million years before they were going to grow up so encouraging independence and letting go felt easy.

I was really proud of myself when, at ten years old, Toby could do his own laundry.

What was all the fuss about?  Surely our whole role as parents was to encourage our children to take steps further away from us?

But as we make more memories and they begin to turn into young men who are good company, hugging me when they think I need a hug and laughing at the same things as me, I have found myself clinging on ever more tightly.

It's not a million years away anymore.  I feel like I'm standing on a train track with a high speed train rushing towards me.

And tonight as Toby goes to his middle school leavers prom, shocking me with his deep voice and tall, muscular body dressed handsomely in a suit,  I find myself desperately holding on to this young man who seems so familiar and yet so alien to me.

Why was I so foolish to think this 'letting go' thing was so easy?  Why didn't anyone tell me that each time they take a tiptoe away from me my heart would be ripped up just a little bit more?  How could I have wasted their years of holding my hand as we walked along the road and playing pirates by pushing them into independence?

And so I realise all over again that I didn't ever have this thing cracked.  My boy who towers over me, helps me lift heavy things and tells me to 'stop fussing' brings me so much joy mixed with so much pain that he will never know about.

I never, ever realised the million years would go quite so quickly and would be quite so much fun.

I'm not sure I want to let go anymore.  I'm beginning to quite like them now.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

What a difference two weeks makes....

Two weeks ago we moved house.

It's been a cardboard-box-filling-and-emptying, new-job-starting, house-moving, husband-away-for-ten-days, cleaning-everything kind of two weeks.

I don't like being over busy, and this has certainly been way too much for me.  Right now though, with blocked toilets and jumanji-like gardens filling my head, I look back over the last few weeks in awe of our friends and family. 

We have a community around us like none we have ever experienced before and we are overwhelming grateful for their support and practical help. 

Over the last few weeks I have kept a list of all the ways people have helped us...

Cooked meals
Had boys for the day so we could pack
Fixed grouting
Fixed hole in ceiling
Cleaned through old house on moving day
Put up beds
Looked after cat
Collected Jonah from school and delivered to new house
Lent car for the day
Lent microwave for a few months
Sewed button on trousers
Unloaded outdoor equipment into shed
Fixed sinks
Plumbed in washing machine
Taken apart wardrobe, carried it into different room, put it back together again
Brought cakes
Fixed washing machine
Sealed up bathroom
Checked broken oven
Made beautiful box
Made beautiful sign for the front door
Brought chocolate
Cleared a path to washing line in garden
Unblocked toilet
Offered a shoulder to cry on
Sent encouraging texts
Made us laugh

So, you see, we are surrounded by this incredible bunch of people who have walked this journey with us so far. 

Thank you.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

How I'm learning to celebrate my 'different' child...

Last week I was surprised to be asked about advice for raising a child who is 'different'.  The last 11 years of parenting have taken me on quite a learning curve as I have battled with questions, fear of being judged by others and anxiety over the future of my boy who does not always meet the expectations of society.

As he left the house this morning with bright green sunglasses (despite the rain) to comments from his friends ('Max, you don't need sunglasses today.' 'I don't care, I like them'.) I smiled to myself and thought it might be helpful to write down some of the things I have learnt.  I know I'm not alone in this and I there are many parents who know far more than me and who inspire me with the way they celebrate their child.

My boy does not have a diagnosis of adhd, autism, aspergers or anything else.  I have questioned this so many times (especially after watching programmes about other children who seem to be so similar), and have even asked friends and teachers for their honest opinions countless times.  I am more than happy for him to be diagnosed if it was necessary and he needed any extra support.  But I have come to realise that Max is Max.  He is not a label or a diagnosis.  He is just different.  And different is good.

So, in celebrating his uniqueness, these are some of the things I have had to embrace:

1.  Being different is fabulous.  How boring would it be if everyone saw the world from the same perspective?  I notice the things that make Max different and (try to) find the positives.  There are often lots.

2. Choose battles wisely.  We often deal with Max in a way that other parents may not choose.  This has meant that I have had to battle through my fears of other people's opinions of me as a mother.  Some parents might not, for example, encourage their children to climb very high in trees or other equipment but I know that for Max this is the place he feels the safest.  He needs to climb and he needs high spots to sit - they help him to be calm. 

3. Teachers need educating.  We have had some amazing, inspirational teachers and some who expect every child to fit inside their box.  When you happen to have a child who doesn't even touch the box let alone sit inside it, you have some battles on your hands.  Nobody else is going to fight for your child except you and sometimes schools need some coaching on how to handle children who can't sit at their desks writing and listening.  I have had to overcome my fear of teachers (yes, honestly, I was!) and speak up for my boy.  And mostly it has worked.

4.  Allow off-the-scale creativity.  I consider myself a pretty creative person but for every idea I generate, Max has one I had never even thought about.  When he was little I encouraged him to play with toys by imagining different purposes for them.  This meant a messy house and garden but oh so much fun.  These days he often has unique solutions or insight into fixing problems.

5.  Change expectations.  For me, having an oldest son who ticks every conventional box possible, I found my expectations being challenged with Max.  He's disorganised (although trying to improve on that one - this morning he even closed the front door behind him when he left for school), messy, loud, funny and extremely passionate.  I had to wipe the expectation whiteboard clean and create new ones with Max.  And, unsurprisingly, he exceeds them constantly. 

6.  Laugh with him.  Oh how this boy makes us laugh!  Sometimes his humour makes me cry too.  And sometimes I have to tell him to stop joking.  But we love laughing with him as he mimics Jim Carey or pulls a crazy face at just the right moment. 

7.  Affirm him.  Being unconventional in a world where every child is expected to conform is not easy.  One of the things we have had to learn to do is give Max courage to be himself.  He has so much to offer the world around him but it's easy for him to be dragged down by the expectations of others.  So we hug him lots, feed him lots (food is his love language) and tell him how fab we think he is.

8.  Teach him that when he has to conform, he has to conform.  There are some things in life that he just has to do.  He has to wear a tie to school.  He had to do sats.  He has to help around the house.  It's all very well allowing a child to be free, but they also need to learn obedience and respect for others.  Some things have to be taught, and this is one of them.

9.  Validate his passions.  My Max is one passionate boy.  It might be about the green olives he is about to consume or it might be about the kid who was being beaten up on the way home from school.  Whatever is floating his boat at the time, rather than rail against it we have learnt to validate it.  We let him be passionate and we teach him how to handle his very extreme emotions.

I know from talking to other parents how hard some of this is.  I know that I haven't got it all sorted yet either.  I fail as a mother all the time.  But one thing I want to do is celebrate each child as a unique person.  I want them to be the young men they were created to be and my role as a Mum is to encourage this at every turn.  I will not squash my Max into a tight, harsh fitting box and expect him to squeeze in and be quiet.  As his mum, I take the box from him and give him the freedom to be himself.  It's my way of loving him.