Saturday, 21 December 2013

Emmanuel - The God who really is with us.

As part of a much bigger story, which I will write more about after Christmas, I wanted to document the amazing events that have unfolded for us over the last couple of months which have shown me what it really means to call our God, 'Emmanuel, God with us'.

Last summer, we began to feel it was right to take our family to visit India.  Now, this is no small task for someone who doesn't even like the torture of being trapped in a car with the boys for a few hours.  We've never taken them on an aeroplane and, living in our white middle class small town, have never exposed them to other cultures which are so different from our own.  We don't have enough money to even go on holiday, let alone take them so far abroad.  Eating naan bread is exotic enough for them.  And anyway, the rules about taking the children out of school have changed and we now can't take them in term time.  Quite honestly, the thought of it filled me with terror.

Despite all these (very good, in my mind) reasons not to go, we felt it was something God was asking of us.  Seriously, I thought, we have no money, the boys don't have passports and school will never agree to it.  I went along with the dream, never for one minute imagining it would become a reality. 

Knowing that in the past God has faithfully provided for us, we began praying for enough money for the trip.  There was no way we could save that much money in such a short amount of time.  I approached the schools and, to my secret horror, they understood and agreed we could take the boys out of school for the time we'd asked for without being fined.  God was with us.

One morning in October when I was praying, I looked out of the window at the tree outside and heard God whisper into my heart that by the time the leaves had fallen off the tree, we would have enough money to book the tickets.  I held the whisper in my heart for some time before telling anyone else.  Every day I would peek out at the tree, counting the remaining leaves.  Mid December, there were six leaves left and we still had no money.  

"It's now or never, God." I prayed.

That week, £1000 was anonymously deposited into our bank account.  By the following day, the tree was empty of leaves.  God was with us.

We booked the tickets, without knowing how we would pay for the visas.  Two days later, we were given an envelope with enough cash to pay for visas.  God was with us.

And so, in February, we fly to India on the biggest adventure our family has ever undertaken.  Schools have agreed, the money has miraculously been provided and, with great excitement, we will board the plane and hope very much that the people sitting close to us will like children!  Each step of the journey has proved His faithfulness to us, and as we take steps that are a bit scary we can stand on His promise to us that He is with us.  The dream has become a reality and over the next few weeks and months I will write more of our story - both the events that have brought us so far, and the adventures that await us.

Have a fabulous Christmas.  Emmanuel - God really is with us.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Jigsaws

I remember when the boys were younger and I tried to be an educational mother.  I'd buy them jigsaws and then sit, hands under my legs, as they attempted to fit the pieces in and taking forever while I could easily see where the pieces needed to go.  I tried not to be bored, but, honestly, it was boring.  Doing the same jigsaws, day after day, week after week.  I could do them in my sleep so why couldn't they do them more quickly?!  Each time I had to be patient, and each time I had to be excited when they'd finally finished it.  Again.

And I realised this week (and most of you have probably realised this a very long time ago) that life is a bit like a jigsaw.  One piece has to be fitted before the next piece.  Sometimes, you have to be patient and allow another person to learn where it goes.

Teaching our boys a love of the outdoors (bear with me, there is a link, I promise) was, for me, an end in itself.  I wanted them to breathe big gulps of deliciously fresh air and run off their energy.  I wanted them to experience that peace that washes over you when you sit, high up, in a tree.  I enjoyed squelching in muddy puddles.  It felt healthy.  It was good for them.  And I wanted them to learn about risk-taking.  It just felt like the right thing to do.  I never realised it was part of the jigsaw.

Setting up Outdoors Unlocked was an extension of this.  Our family's love of nature and adventure, shared with others.  But at the same time, we had to learn to trust for our provision and not to rely on ourselves.  We learnt to pray and trust like we never have before.  And our boys joined us.  We sat around our breakfast table, together, putting our finances into the hands of the One who knows what we need.  We thought it was good for the boys to be involved.  But it wasn't just about setting up a business.  We never realised that this, too, was part of the jigsaw.

And so, now, when we say to our boys 'Let's go on this adventure', they say 'yes'. This is a bit bigger and a bit more scary than jumping off a cliff into the sea or doing a high ropes course, but because they are confident risk-takers and because they have seen the faithfulness of the God we serve, they say 'yes'.  Because they have learnt to obey and to trust, they follow without hesitation.  Because they know their lives are safe in his hands, they climb into those enormous, solid, protecting hands and go where he takes them.  And that piece of the puzzle slots in.  How glad I am that we have been along this journey.  How grateful for the steps we've taken as a family which have led us to this point.  The mud in the boot of the car and the clogged up washing machine is so very worth it.  It all makes sense now.  Well, at least some of it.

We don't know what the final picture in the jigsaw will look like,  but we know the One who does.  And we trust, and we obey, as he slots the pieces in at the right times.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Don't Waste Your Life

A history-maker has taken his last breath.  His legacy is enormous.  Described as a 'fighter', even in his last few days, Nelson Mandela never gave up and preached a gospel of reconciliation and forgiveness, despite the fact that he, more than any of us, would have a reason for revenge.

One life, unwasted. 
One life, passionately surrendered to all he stood for. 
One life, focused.

What if all of us were to live like this? 

Waking up to the news of Nelson Mandela's death this morning, I remembered these verses I'd read just a few days ago in my Bible:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.


“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings."
 
What if we all lived like this? 
 
We have a fleeting life.  Here one minute, gone the next.  I don't want to waste mine.  I don't want to go from one day to the next, having never changed history. 
 
We can't all be prominent and influential, but most world-changers start with the small.  Can we share our food with the hungry?  Can we make a stand for those who can't do it for themselves?  Can we give clothes to those who need them?  Can we fight against injustice, even in small way?  Can we work together instead of pointing the finger at each other?  Can we help to rebuild people's lives, damaged by war, abuse, poverty or injustice?  Can we love the unlovely?  Can we teach our children to put others before themselves so that the next generation continues the fight?
 
Nelson Mandela was just a man.  A courageous one, but still just a human being, fighting for what he believed in.  We can too.  We're no different. 
 
Don't waste your life.  Make it count.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Lost For Words

Those who know me will know that it is rare for me to be lost for words.  And yet, at the moment, that's how I feel.

When we began a few years ago on our 'adventure of faith' I had no idea where it would take us, but back then, when we were further away from the cliff it all looked pretty easy.  If you stay back from the edge and look at the magnificent view, it doesn't look too scary.  But when you are standing on the edge of the cliff, preparing to harness up, your head starts to swim with the heights and the reality begins to hit home.  Gulping and breathless, words fail me. 

Uncertainty becomes a constant 'friend'.  Fear of the unknown is a daily battle.  Vulnerability, so often seen as a weakness, is my ally.  Each week, each day, begins with a wondering.  "What will today bring?"  "What will have happened by the end of this week?"  "Can I actually make this leap?"  Adventure isn't just for thrill-seekers.  Adventure requires taking steps forward into the fog of the unpredictable.  And I like predictable. 

And so, as I peek over the edge of the cliff, wondering what twists and turns will come in our story this week, I remind myself of the only certainty that underpins us.  In the good old words of hymnwriter, Fanny Crosby, "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine."  What sweet relief to know that I belong to Him, the writer of our story and the holder of my harness. 

This song, from Hillsong, eloquently describes those deep gulps of emotion that I can't quite put into words....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dy9nwe9_xzw


Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders. 
Let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Embarrassing Mum

I've made it.  I have finally reached the status of Embarrassing Mum.

It doesn't matter what Embarrassing Mum does, it won't ever be quite right.  I'm old.  I don't understand how things work these days.  I don't know what 'everyone else' does or has.  I certainly don't know how to be cool (and that's probably not even the right word) like 'everyone else's' mum.  

And so, I begin the task of continuing my relationship with Toby (12, but far more knowledgable than you could possibly imagine) when he is beginning to push me away to form his own sense of identity, separate from me and even from our family.  It's a daunting prospect.

And it's a very strange feeling to watch my child, the one I cradled in my arms, sung to in the middle of the night and taught how to wee in the toilet, pulling away from me.  Of course, he doesn't know that I know what he's doing.  He just thinks that I am clueless about the whole thing.  I've always been old.  I was never his age.  And yet, I find myself remembering being 12 and feeling shocked that Toby is as old as I was then.  I remember boyfriends to awkwardly hold hands with, giggling girly friends to meet in the town (2pm, outside 'Boots', every Saturday) and feelings of being desperate to grow up.  

It's time to let go again.  I need to let go, but hold on at the same time.  He needs me to be his safety and security as he begins to tip toe out into this world of girls (not yet), school results, new friendships and fads.  As all around him turns into a whirlwind of confusing thoughts, decisions, dilemmas and not to mention changing bodies, he needs his parents to be the boring ones who stay constant.

So, I'll be Embarrassing Mum with pleasure, as long as (when nobody is watching) he will still come and give me a hug and tell me he loves me.  

Monday, 18 November 2013

"Come, follow me."

Stepping out of the boat wasn't just a thrill-seeker's adventure.  It was a death sentence.  To climb on top of the edge and then stretch your toes out onto the cold, dark, swirling waters was madness.  This wasn't some crazy bungee-jumper's adrenaline rush.  This was certain suicide.

What would make someone do such a thing?  How would it even occur to someone?

Gazing into the eyes of his Master, Peter heard the word: "Come".

No questions asked.

It was a no-brainer. 

Did Peter engage his brain before clambering out of that boat?  Did his friends shout and tell him to stop being ridiculous?  Did they try and pull him back to safety?  Or did Peter see his Master walking on the water, calling to him, and just follow?

"Come, follow me."

Does following require us to seek thrills or does it require us to obey, finding grace given to us every step of the way?  Does it mean we keep our gaze fixed, firmly, on the One we follow despite the danger and difficulties?  As we step out, putting our own desires and dreams to death, we are given a whole new set of dreams that are more than we could have ever imagined or hoped for?.

"Come, follow me."

Can we follow, but keep hold of a couple of things just in case?  Do we follow just for the benefits or are we in it for the long haul, when the waters threaten to overwhelm?  Do we really trust the One we follow or do we keep a back up plan? 

Following requires our all, or we're not really following.  We can't pretend to follow - we either do or we don't.  But the promises we are given outweigh the shaky, fearful steps every time. 

Certain death?  Yes. 
Certain hope?  Yes. 
Life beyond anything we could ever have expected?  Yes. 

"Come, follow me."


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Reading Books - What the teachers don't see.

If only the teacher could see what happens at home when, in good faith, the reading books are handed out.

If you are lucky enough to have a child who actually wants to read their book and you don't have to go through the crying / screaming / bribery / attempting to think of innovative ways of making reading fun, then you have already passed the first hurdle.  I have been known to read by torchlight; in a Yoda voice; inside cardboard boxes and even up a tree to persuade a child to read their book.  

The next hurdle is attempting to stop the sibling distraction.  Younger siblings are difficult to contain and while you are sitting down attempting to explain 'was' is actually pronounced 'woz' they are merrily taking their favourite cuddly toy swimming in the toilet or emptying the contents of the fridge into their mouths.  Older siblings present a different problem.  Their activities are fun - more fun than reading about Biff's latest adventures - and the reading child would far rather be with their older brother or sister.

Sometimes you come across the 'independent reader' who does not want you to even look at the book let alone help them.  They sit as far away as possible, holding the book away from you as though it is a secret document.  This makes for a long and frustrating reading session while the child stumbles over laugh, pronouncing it 'lowg', but will not, under any circumstances, allow you to assist.

The 'rolling around whilst reading' days are my particular irritation.  Holding on to the book, they roll across the floor, kicking their legs, constantly losing their place in the book.  Once the place is lost, you have to start the battle all over again.  

As much as I promised myself I wouldn't ever do it, I have been known to say (in a very pious tone of voice) "What in earth would Mrs Baker think of your behaviour this evening?" and I have even written in the reading record book: "Said child has been very silly tonight silly tonight and has not concentrated well on their reading". I hope the teacher could read between the lines.

End-of-day tiredness has a big effect on the quality of the reading.  Often, there is no opportunity other than when they are very tired at the end of a long day.  Not only are they worn out, but so are you, and patience levels are low.  Allowing them to sound the word out themselves when you are tired and really don't want to hear anymore about how Floppy the dog fell into the river, it's very difficult to contain yourself when you just want to snap the words out and be done with the whole thing.  Tears, on both sides, are common at this stage.  

Oh, if only the teachers could be a fly on the wall.


Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Museums

My tips for visiting museums with boys.

1. Practice speed walking before you go.  You will need to follow them everywhere, and they will not walk slowly, appreciating the history.

2. Don't attempt to read any of the information signs.  If you are good at the art of dressing up boring activities, you can try to make the information sound fun but usually it will backfire.

3. Prepare some useful answers for questions about 'buttock ornaments' and naked statues.

4. Try your hardest to keep out of sight of the museum staff, especially when the boys are lying on the floor hooting at the people below through the vents in the floor.

5. Don't try to be a history teacher.  While you are impressing yourself by explaining the intricacies of the Aztecs, they will be wandering off climbing the totem pole.

6. Smile at the people fortunate enough to be visiting without children.  If you smile, they will be more forgiving when the boys push past them to see the bows and arrows or shout 'you can see that statue's bum cheeks!'

7. Walk through the inevitable 'you have to exit through it' gift shop as quickly as possibly shouting 'NO, NO, NO, NO, NO' until the boys realise you will not be buying them yet another wooden sword or fake gemstone.

8. Remember that one day you can go back and visit everything in your own leisure, including reading all the information signs.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Finding Perspective

Frustrated again at the half Lego body lying, decapitated on the bathroom floor; the toilet seat that miraculously seems to have wee on it  ("it wasn't me, I ALWAYS wipe it up" hmmm) and the overflowing cardboard box in the kitchen which is for me to put in junk left lying around the house but has become a new place to keep it instead, I wonder at the 'difficulties' of my life and try to keep perspective.

I sigh over the stains on the white shirt which haven't come out in the wash (and I did use Ariel - they're not whiter than white, after all) and remind myself that somewhere out there in the world is a child whose clothes have never been inside a washing machine.  Somewhere there is a child who may not have clothes at all.

Wondering yet again how we are going to help Max to control his temper after another explosive outburst this morning, I remember that some children don't have a mum or dad to help them learn self control.  What will become of them?

Feeling irritated at the boy's obsession with money and their focus on constantly saving up for things, I think about the children who are sent to work at the same age as my little ones.  Exploited and prohibited from having a proper childhood, these tinies work long hours for not even half of my boy's weekly pocket money.  They can't 'save up for things' because the money is needed for basic essentials.  Forced to be adults before their time, these children don't know how it feels to have a new toy car or Lego kit they've been watching on eBay for weeks.  They don't even hope or dream for such things.

I feel shut out of my boy's lives when I walk into a room while they are dressing, only for them to cover themselves up.  "I changed your nappies!" I exclaim to them.  "All your body parts grew inside me!"  Embarrassing, I know.  Then I remember how many children out there don't have the opportunity to cover up.  Their bodies are infiltrated, abused, ravaged by adults who use them for their own disgusting pleasure.  Some of their bodies are even used to make money, when they should be wrapped up in their pj's and snuggled under cuddly blankets with those who love them.  

The screen battle is my consant war.  "Go outside!" I shout at them. "It's a beautiful day!" I think about the children who not only don't have screens, but are kept inside all day and night, a prisoner to someone else's demands.  No fresh air, no footballs, no pooh sticks over a bridge.  Just the never ending story of being held captive.

Racing up and down the stairs at bedtime, I wonder if the boys will ever go to sleep and give me some peace.  What excuses will they think up next to call me from their beds?  "I can hear a scratching", "I've just figured out that conkers go mouldy really quickly", "Max's teeth scare me" to name but a few. And then I remind myself that for some children, bedtime is the most terrifying of all.  Not knowing whether they will wake again the next morning, they go to sleep in fear of their lives and the lives of their family.  Some children, fleeing the violence, don't have a bed to sleep in or even a mummy to tuck them in and stroke their hair.  

I feel bored of our meals.  I look at 'family meals recipes' online to try and find something more interesting for us to eat.  And then I remember that some children are grateful for the same food day in, day out because otherwise they might not have any food at all.  

And so, I try to put my own worries and frustrations into perspective.  There's a whole world out there that needs us.  Sometimes it's good to lift our head from our own busy little lives and take a daring peek at what the lives of others look like.  It might just propel us into action.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Vision

As I approach Toby's twelfth (I have to breathe deeply at this point) birthday, I wonder whether as parents we are working out the vision and aims we had when he was a baby.  It's a psychological truth that if you aim for nothing, you will hit nothing.  The Bible puts it in another, more dramatic way, in the book of Proverbs: 'When there is no vision, the people perish.'

And so, attempting to understand this in our 'new-parent-shocked-exhausted' state, we decided there and then that we would bring our boy (and subsequent boys....  oh, how little we knew of what was to come) up to be a radical follower of Jesus, obeying him despite the cost.  As a baby, instead of a christening, we dedicated him to God.  For us, this meant saying thank you to God for him and then giving him back.  Toby is on loan to us and as his parents we have been commissioned to train and disciple him.  He's not ours to keep, he's ours to prepare.

In light of these thoughts, we made these promises at his dedication (and for Max and Jonah too), based on the words used in the Salvation Army.  These are promises we did not make lightly, but much thought and soul-searching went into them.

“If you wish the Lord to take possession of the soul and body of this child, Toby, that he shall only and always do His will, you must be willing that he should spend all his life in the service of Christ wherever God may choose to send him; even if he should be despised, hated, cursed, beaten, kicked, imprisoned, or killed for Christ’s sake. 

Whilst living out God’s purposes for his life he will know the unending and unconditional love of God, the peace that passes all understanding; and the joy of having an intimate relationship with God as his father, friend and counsellor. 

You must let him see in you an example of what a Christian ought to be, serving God with all your heart, soul and mind.  You must keep as far from Toby as you can every influence likely to injure him in either soul or body; and teach and train him to the best of your ability to be a faithful servant of Christ.

Do you wish to surrender your child to God in this way?”

“We do.” 

“In the name of Jesus, we take Toby who has been fully given up by his parents to God and for the salvation of the world.”
 
Of course, our role ever since has been to model living this way to our boys.  I wonder how well we are doing at this and want to make sure that I am doing everything I can to prepare my boys for the exciting plans God has for them.  Being a Christian parent doesn't mean making sure they go to a good Sunday School or teaching good values (although this is important too) it means modelling being an obedient and radical follower of Jesus so that our children will see, in us, how to live.  It means we base all our decision making on our obedience to God, and not on whatever the consequences might be.  It means making sacrifices and sometimes being uncomfortable.  It means having a peace that doesn't quite fit with the circumstances.  It means finding true joy instead of fleeting happiness.
 
For me, there is no better vision for my boys than seeing God's plans fulfilled in their lives and watching them serve him wholeheartedly.  I don't want them to navigate their lives without a vision, watching them perish with the crushing weight of indecision.  I want to instil in them a passion for the One who makes everything (pain, difficulties, hardships) worthwhile.   
 
And so, after 12 fleeting, manic, slow, enlightening, exhausting but satisfying years, I am doing a parental and spiritual stock-take, ensuring we are following the track we set out for ourselves at the beginning.  What's your vision for your children? 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 27 September 2013

Porn And Why I Can't Keep Quiet.

There's a subtle, but taboo, mist that hovers over our society.

Young boys begin to be blinded by the mist as young as eight years old.

Married men stumble and lose their footing.

But it's all unseen.  This secretive mist penetrates through middle class 'new builds', council flats and expensive mansions.  Seeping into the minds and hearts of Doctors, Teachers, Shop Assistants, Cleaners and even Church Leaders, it is not picky about who it captures or even how it enfolds them in its grip.

Some who have seen the mist perceive it as harmless fun, misunderstanding the depths of captivity it can bring.  

Harmless, however, it is not.  And the heavy weight of the mist brings guilt to men, pain to women and devastation to marriages that can't be spoken about.  

It's time pornography wasn't a secret anymore.  It's time the light was shone into the dirty, dark corners where the mist lurks, exposing it for what it really is.

Those affected need help, not judgement, and young boys need to be protected and taught of the dangers before it is too late.

I can't keep quiet anymore.  I've seen too much unnecessary pain caused.  

It's time to stop the taboo and allow people to be real.

Monday, 23 September 2013

No Man Is An Island

We all nod enthusiastically when we hear John Donne's famous words that 'no man is an island', but sometimes wouldn't we quite like to be?

Sometimes, hiding away from the rest of the world is a very tempting opportunity.  Not having to think of anyone's needs but our own, locking the door and fielding the phone calls, we shut ourselves away on our very own blissfully selfish desert island.

But islands can't stay self-sufficient for long and all the resources are used up quickly.

Such was my experience this weekend with a husband away and a nasty illness to contend with.

Locking the door to the world, I wanted to cope on my own.  I didn't want anyone to enter my house wondering if we had been burgled whilst I was lying on the sofa (I'm not joking, the mess really was that bad) and I certainly didn't want to reveal any cracks in my 'I can cope' shiny armour.  I couldn't bear the thought of 'burdening others' when they were already busy.  So, I retreated to my island, not alone but with my three boys.

It turned out that my reserves were drained rather too quickly for my liking and by Saturday morning, I could not move from my sofa.  In floods of tears, I admitted my weakness (gone was the fake 'coping' sheen) and asked for help.

That day, no less than seven friends came to my aid in differing ways - bringing tablets, taking my boys out or dropping them off at birthday parties, bringing food, sorting my piles of laundry and tidying my non-burgled house.  Each time they arrived I was aware that, despite the fact that I was still in my pyjamas with unwashed hair, they were coming because they loved me. 

Humbled, I remembered another wise saying in an old books called Proverbs:

"A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity."

My friends love me all the time - even when I am still in my pyjamas and my house is a tip and my boys are bored and wrestling on the floor.  And my family are there for hard times.  Friends and family aren't just there to make us feel good, like the uplifting background music on X factor, they are there for our support and our good - warts and all.

We're not meant to be on our own.  We're not created to be an island.  We need each other, and we need to accept help from our friends even when it doesn't make us look good.  We need to take off a piece or two of that shiny armour that is so hard to walk in sometimes so that our friends can love us at all times - even the parts that we would rather they didn't see.  Vulnerability replaces self-sufficiency.

I'm grateful that my friends and family built me a raft this weekend so I could escape my lonely island.   Thank you, friends, for loving me at all times.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Fish scales

Anyone else have strange conversations like this?

Me: 'How do you feel about school now compared to the day before you started?'
Max: 'On a scale of?'
Me: 'One to ten.'
Max: 'No, I mean a fish.'
Me: 'What?'
Max: 'Tunafish is the best, cod is in the middle and salmon is the worst.'
Me: (beginning to catch on to the Max logic): 'Ok, which fish do you feel now?'
Max: 'Cod.'
Me: 'And which fish did you feel before you started?'
Max: 'Salmon.'
Me: 'And what would make it tuna fish?'
Max:'If Mrs #*#€¥ was sacked.'

I do love my boy and am so proud of him for tackling his first week in his new school without 1. losing anything and 2. losing himself.

Friday, 30 August 2013

How I miss my boys.....

Driving away from dropping the boys off at their annual 'Band of Brothers' weekend, I smiled to myself as I heard Max and Jonah, already up a tree, resounding a 'Tarzan' call into the woods.  They are going to have a weekend to fill up their memory tanks as they are allowed to eat Yorkie bars for breakfast, climb trees, play football with their mates and sit around the campfire.  Of course, I am not supposed to know about what goes on at Band of Brothers, so keep that information to yourself.  Anticipated with excitement each year, it is one of those special times which provides great memories and builds fantastic relationships.

The trouble is, I am left all alone for the weekend. 

Mourning their departure, I will, of course, spend the whole time counting down the hours and minutes until their return. 

How will I be able to wake up in the morning without a little voice asking me to show him which films are on Sky Movies (ok, don't tell anyone that bit either - yes, that IS how I keep Jonah quiet in the mornings)?

What will I do in the evenings without bedtime arguments and re-runs of 'River Monsters'?

I should think the withdrawal symptoms of the skate park will be pretty nasty.  Will I seriously be able to survive a whole weekend without a visit?  Not even once?

Surely there will be someone else who can provide me with a running commentary on the different methods of fishing.

How will my viewing of the television be complete without arguments over who is sitting on which seat?

And will I, dare I say it, be able to actually have a whole shower without someone interrupting to tell me about the intricacies of their injury inflicted by a brother?

Is it even possible that I might be able to enter the bathroom without having to check the floor before stepping inside?

I'm not sure I will be able to cope with the responsibility of having the remote control to myself all weekend.  Are there really other programmes out there?

No, this weekend is going to be dreadful for me.  I think I shall curl up in a ball and await their return, with tissues at hand for the occasional weeping.  After all, I have nothing better to do.


Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Results of Results

Having spent the last two years getting to know some pretty inspiring teenagers, I have discovered that the world they live in is so very different to the one I grew up in (some would wonder if I have, actually, grown up yet...).  

Believe it or not, we didn't have the Internet, mobile phones or tablets.  Information had to be found in dusty old books instead of Wikipedia.  Bullying was to our face not over a social networking site.  We loved New Kids on the Block and Wet Wet Wet (and in my case, Philip Schofield - yes, go on, have a good chuckle and get it all out of your system) instead of One Direction.  We weren't bombarded with images of the 'perfect body' although there was still some pressure to look the part.  We didn't suspect that every older man was a paedophile and being gay was not commonplace.  Boys were fascinating, but we didn't want to have sex with them all and the phrase 'friends with benefits' was non-existent.

It's into this new world that our teens receive their results today.  This world where they must be, say and do the right thing or they will not be accepted.  Their identities are so bound up with whether they fit the mould or not that, results included, they must not fail.  'Failure', in the eyes of the world around them, leads to rejection and a doomed life.  Their GCSE results define their identities - they are an 'A student' or not.  

And so they battle against one of the biggest lies in our culture.  The lie that, if they do not succeed in exams at the ages of 16 or 18, their life is already one big failure and they are placed in the compost bin (not a landfill - that's not pc).

What exams don't take into account is the character of the young person.  They may be the kindest, most caring, passionate and determined people.  They might have ideas and inventions that cannot be tested by exams.  They might be selfless and sacrificially servant-hearted.  The person whose friends approach them for a listening ear might not get an 'A' in Maths but would definitely achieve one in being a good friend.

If we sell identity to our kids based on their exam successes or failures, we sell them a lie.  In a society where our young people are constantly under pressure to be someone they may struggle to be, we need to accept them for who they are and encourage them in the gifts and skills they already have.  
Let's be proud of who they are, and not what they achieve.

Of course, being in love with Philip Schofield isn't something to be proud of....


Saturday, 17 August 2013

Holiday Lesson #1

When the big boys went off for their more extreme versions of fun, I always had a little one to look after. Secretly, I was quite relieved about that. It meant that I didn't have to do the scary bits. It became a habit and so I was never expected to join in.

On our holiday this year though, the little one wanted to do what the big ones were doing.

The first day, I breathed a sigh of relief as I watched them, nets and buckets in hand, sauntering down the beach for some rock-pooling. I savoured the peace as I read my book and people-watched in the sunshine.

After a couple of days, the ants began to arrive in my pants and I started to feel as though I was missing out on the holiday fun. We'd arrive at the beach and they'd be off. I could hear their squeals and screams but, like the proverbial old lady, I was left looking after the bags. I realised that I had spent the last 10 years avoiding the fun (sometimes out of necessity) and that family dynamics had changed. Now, I could join in if I wanted to.

And so, when mackerel fishing was decided upon, I didn't wait on the shore with all the belongings. I clambered on the boat and, to the amazement of the boys, I actually caught a fish. I'm not entirely sure if I enjoyed it. A whole hour of rocking with the swell of the waves did not do my stomach much good, and I was terrified the boys were going to fall in (no life-jackets - apparently the fisherman had been doing it for 29 years and not lost anyone yet...).

And while I was sat on the uncomfortable pebbles snapping bodyboarding photographs, I realised that I could actually go in the sea too. I peeled myself into Jared's already wet wetsuit (not to be advised - it was almost impossible and the boys sniggered as they snapped a photograph of my bottom) and ventured into the ocean. It was so liberating as I laughed, whooped and shouted with my boys. They loved teaching me how to bodyboard and were more than shocked that I'd joined them.

That spark of adventure had always been there, fluttering away inside, but having babies and little ones had dulled it. Not anymore. I don't want to be the mum who always sits on the side. I want to join in the fun too.

Now to look on eBay for a wetsuit.....

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Wisdom of Friends

I love spending time with parents who have already walked the path we are plodding through. Their advice is priceless. Last week, I watched with a small amount of envy as a 13 year old son gave his mum an enormous hug and I asked 'how do you get them to still do that?'.

And the answer?

'Don't let them stop'.

What a fantastic piece of advice.

Toby, almost as tall as me now, still hugs me but Max will only let me cuddle him from behind, and he rarely circles me in his arms. And Jonah? Well, that is a source of sadness to me as my lovely little five year old would prefer not to touch me at all. He is full of affection for his adored Daddy, but not for me. Not ever. And I've allowed this to happen. I have just given up because I thought it was normal. But my heart droops a little more each time I attempt to hold them in my arms only to be rebuffed.

And so, this summer, I am making it my mission to restore physical affection between me and my boys. I've explained love languages to them and said that mine is hugs, and today Max actually cuddled me twice. I'm not going to give up. I want to be enveloped by them in a big bear hug when they tower over me. This mum will always need hugs.

Friends are vital. We weren't designed to bring our children up on our own. We were supposed to do it in community; sharing with one another and speaking truth into each other's lives. Thank you, my friends, for your wisdom in parenting. I couldn't do it without you.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

How much will your uniform cost?

It doesn't come naturally to me, but I do try to be organised.

So the week before school broke up for the summer holidays I began buying school uniform for September. And it's rather a good job because the cost needs to be spread.

Max starts Middle School next term and so for the last two years I have been squirrelling away Toby's almost pristine school uniform, ready to pass on.

And then, in true 'we don't realise / care about all the ramifications of our decisions' style, the school decide to change the uniform. Jumpers alone will cost £18 each (only to be lost in the first week of term).

How can schools actually get away with these expectations? I know it's an age old issue, but surely in these days of 'austerity' parents should be let off the hook. Pupils can be smartly dressed for school without having the logo emblazoned on everything from socks to underwear. What on earth is this logo obsession for? They'll be branding the children's foreheads with it next (and we'll have to pay for the privilege too).

And so, by the time September arrives our family will have spent well over £250 on uniform for three children (including the exorbitantly priced shoes, which I am still umming and aahing over). The summer holidays, in which we are now forced to take our holidays instead of cheaper times of year, are expensive enough without adding on the school uniform craziness.

What are your uniform horror stories?

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Exclusions

Figures in the news today claim that more children than ever were excluded from Primary Schools last year and 45% of those were for physical assault.

The sad news that boys are three times more likely than girls to be excluded makes me wonder about the reasons. Boys as young as 4 and 5 years old are being labelled as troublemakers and, whilst I'm sure that they are children who have difficulties, it sends shivers down my spine as I think of the consequences of these labels on their young lives.

Are our boys frustrated with a system that doesn't recognise their need for action? Do we need to be teaching boys respect for others and themselves? Are these boys lacking men who will show them how to deal with their anger? And, dare I say it, has the rise of feminism in education meant that boys no longer know who they are supposed to be?

Of course, I'm not making excuses for bad behaviour but as a Mum I know that some situations will induce more difficult behaviour than others in my boys. It is hard for them to sit still and quiet for a long time without being given opportunity to move, for example. And in an education system that is increasingly heading towards the Victorian era, children who have not been taught Victorian values will struggle. It's not easy for boys to behave well in class. There are a whole load of reasons not to, and those who do work hard at it.

I'm no expert, but perhaps the boys who are being excluded need help rather than labels. Maybe they need compassion instead of exclusion. Perhaps our education system needs to be more geared up for different learning styles instead of squeezing all our children, boys and girls included, into one simple box and punishing those who flail at being squeezed.

Just my thoughts. What are yours?

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Little Hands

I used to hold his chubby, sweaty little hand in mine as we walked to school together pretending to fly and talking about the planets we'd visited and aliens we'd seen.



Some days, too stubborn to put on his shoes, we'd walk shoe-less until he decided I was right in the end.

I warned him about dog poo and walking too close to the curb every day, several times.

We'd make hand-squeeze codes together.  One squeeze meant 'I love you'.  Two squeezes meant 'I think you are great'.  Three squeezes meant 'You smell.'

We'd chat on the way home about his day and he'd tell me all his exciting news.

Today, I took him for the last time.  In September he'll walk with Toby to a new school.  As he walked through the door, he smiled at me and waved.

Another 'letting go' moment that pulls at my heart as part of me is so excited about what lies ahead but the other part, the soft part, has to let go of his little hand so that it has space to grow into a bigger one.

I can't hold onto his hand anymore.  I can't squeeze it because it's time to let go and allow it to grow.  I have to step aside to make space for him.

It's with tears of sadness at the squidgy hands now gone, but joy as I look ahead to the future that I let go of him.  What will his hands accomplish now, as they grow without me?  What will he make?  Who will he care for?  What words will he write?  What decisions will he make?

I let go today a little bit more, and my Mummy heart aches, but the days and years ahead are exciting so I turn my face to them and prepare my heart for what they will bring.



Monday, 22 July 2013

Boy Tips for the Royal Couple

Dear Will and Kate,

Congratulations! You've had a precious son!

From one Mum of boys to another, here are my tips as you begin your exciting journey.

1. Boys do not understand hints. If you want your son to do something, you must tell him straight out.

2. Prepare yourself for bodily-function humour. I mean seriously prepare. Little boys (and big ones for that matter) will laugh at things that girls just do not find funny.

3. Your prince will need some fighting. Boys are very active and they need to play-fight to learn how to be sociable with others. A bit of Daddy-wrestling works wonders.

4. I'm not sure on the etiquette for royal princes, but however much you try to avoid the 'gun thing', you will not win. He will make guns out of toast crusts, Lego, sticks and even various body-parts (see point 2).

5. If you do not know already, learn about Star Wars quick. You will be required to light sabre your way through life, speak like Yoda and use 'the force' to open automatic doors pretty soon.

6. Competition is important. As is 'macho pride'. If your son is ever refusing to be obedient you should use phrases such as 'I bet you can't climb out of the bath before I count to 10' and 'Let's have a race to put our shoes on'. Simple but effective psychology. Works every time.

7. Cuddle your boy. He needs to learn about emotions from his Mummy. Even when he reaches the age where cuddles are not so appreciated, keep cuddling.

8. Let your prince get muddy. Enjoy his bruised legs. Allow him to take risks as he grows up. Give him freedom to climb trees, build dens and catch spiders.

9. When your son brings you flowers in a plastic cup form the garden, be enthusiastic. He's practising on you.

10. You might well have a cleaner, but once you have begun potty training, never ever expect your bathroom to be the same again. Always check the seat before you sit down.

Enjoy your boy. Like all our boys, he is very precious.


Mothering, the Royal Way.

The Duchess of Cambridge has it tough. She had a fairytale wedding that all little girls dream of. She is our royal heroine and well loved. She's beautiful but not detached. Everything about her is seemingly perfect.

But she is bringing her child into our world of rapid-travel news. Every cry of labour pains, every twitch of a hospital curtain, every dimming of the lights in the hospital room will be facebooked and tweeted around the world.

When she arrives home with her precious bundle, exhausted and possibly overwhelmed, she is going to have to live out her mothering in front of a worldwide audience. Most of us like to hide away for a while until the droopy bags under our eyes can't stay hidden any longer. Many of us won't get dressed for days on end, and even when we do our clothes will be decorated with baby drool and sick.

The Duchess will be expected to still look beautiful and glamorous. She will not be allowed to go out of the house with white patches on her shoulders. She will have to don large sunglasses to cover her sleep deprived eyes. What if her her dazzling smile turns to tears of exhaustion and frustration? There will be no hiding for our fresh faced princess. The whole world will be looking on as she tried to work out how to be a Mum. Everyone will be waiting to hear of her successes and failures.

We've all had those soul-humbling experiences when our toddlers decide to tantrum in the local supermarket. Everyone watches, either out of pity or irritation. For Kate, this will be her life. Every parental decision will be analysed. Each milestone the child reaches or doesn't reach will be assessed by the experts of the nation (and the pretend experts too). The world will be full of advice for this first-time mum.

I think we should give her a break and expect from her all we would expect from any new mother. If she stays in her pyjamas all day and hides away from the flash of the camera, I will be applauding her. Stunningly beautiful she is, but this does not qualify her to be a perfect mother and if she makes mistakes along the way (as we all have) I hope the world will be kind to her. When she leaves her home with bags full of baby paraphernalia but forgets to put her shoes on, I hope we will not criticise.

She is, after all, a first-time mother who will be trying to stumble her way through this parenting business just the same as the rest of us.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Dear Mr Clegg and Mr Gove

Dear Mr Clegg and Mr Gove,

Meet Max. 



He is nine years old.  He is creative, slightly eccentric, highly disorganised but full of inventive ideas and curiosity about the world around him.  He dislikes reading, although he will do it if he has to.  He hates writing even more.  He's great with numbers but lacks self belief.  He's a deep thinker and often makes very profound comments about what he sees around him.  He is very intelligent.  He has a dreadful memory and might not do so well in tests.

As parents, we send our creative, playful, energetic, curious and unique five year olds to school and we hope that they will be given the opportunity to develop into the young adults they were meant to be.  We are aware of how different our children are, even within the same families, and we always want the best for them despite their differences.

Under your 'regime' Max will be tested and tested and tested to ensure that by the time he is 11, and then 18, he will fit your required mould or will be relegated to the bottom of the pile.

Your plans are dangerous for the future of our country.  Do you really want adults who are all experts in Shakespeare or prime numbers?  What about the innovators and the risk-takers?  What about those who struggle to read but are experts at thinking of the needs of others and caring for them?  You are going to have a generation of young adults who are divided between those who have given up because they have been branded as failures, and those who are so moulded by your system that they have become robots.  No creativity, no joy in learning, no discovery and exploration.  Everyone the same.

And it's not just the children who will suffer.  Teachers who love the children and desperately want to bring the best out of them in creative ways will be squashed into teaching for tests instead of teaching for a love of learning.  Why do you think there is such a lack of teachers at the moment?  Nobody wants to teach under your rule.

So, Mr Clegg and Mr Gove , what are you going to do to ensure that children like Max, who may not be academic but have other beautiful qualities, are going to be nurtured and encouraged at school?  How can we celebrate the successes of our unique children?  How can you reassure us as parents that your system is going to bring the best out of our individual children?

I very much look forward to hearing your response.

Helen Hodgson
Mother of three very different boys.


Monday, 15 July 2013

A Proper British Heatwave

We're all meant to love it.

"We can't complain," everyone mutters to each other, wishing that really, we could complain. But we're so British and the truth is that whilst we're all busy saying how delightful this weather is, our lives aren't set up for heat like this and we all find it a bit tiring.

Of course, teenagers will love it. I did too when I had nothing to do other than lounging around listening to music and reading books.

But when you actually have to go to work in a stuffy office or (like me) dance around with pom poms singing at the top of your voice, it's really rather wearying. And when you have to drag hot, tired children home from school who then eat you out of ice pops and have proper water fights (take the word 'fight' literally) complete with screaming, it makes you want to climb into the chest freezer and never return.

In hot countries they have lovely things like air conditioned homes (or at least a fan on the ceiling) and siestas. Here, we work up a sweat in the hottest part of the day, continuing to hurry our crazily busy lives along.

Still, we can't complain. At least everything in our house has been washed, maybe even twice, and hung out to dry. And we're all donning a lovely brown suntan (oops, we're not meant to like that one either but secretly we do). And my cucumbers, courgettes and tomatoes are enjoying the sunshine.

We'd better make the most of it. It will probably rain for the six weeks of the summer holidays, like a proper British summer.

Friday, 12 July 2013

'MUUM, will you tell him!'

It seems that whilst I cook and clean for my children, I now need to speak for them as well.

It's called the 'MUUUM, will you tell him!' syndrome.

This syndrome renders the child speechless as soon as they have uttered the phrase. Consequently, anything that they wish to say to their sibling, in particular pointing out something that they deem as unsuitable behaviour, you will have to say for them.

It can be shouted at any moment, but more usually it is yelled at the most inappropriate moments. Often when you are cooking the dinner or trying to leave the house on time.

If you fail to speak for your child, they will be forced to use their body language to communicate with their sibling, namely through punching, kicking or other violent means.

There is no cure for this syndrome, but the hope is that as maturity progresses, the child will grow out of it.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Whose Job? Part 4 - Falling in Love

"AAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!"

The Israelites had invaded.  Those of us who were Midianites screamed in terror as we were utterly petrified and completely thrilled all at the same time. Hiding out in a field (and some of you reading this will know which field I am remembering), we were swept up with the drama as we waited for the story to continue.  Our imaginations and our hearts had been captured and, at that moment, I fell in love with the Bible.

All this happened around thirty years ago (ssshhhh - my boys think I'm seventeen), but I will never forget the commotion and the awe as all round me the Bible was brought to life. 

The Bible is exciting.  It's not a boring, enormous rule book.  It's a love story, full of adventure and is sometimes downright bloodthirsty.  Teaching our children the Bible isn't a chore, it's a pleasure.  To see their faces light up when they suddenly understand something new is a privilege for us as parents.

Our job is to show our children how to fall in love with the Bible.  Of course, it's a book and logically, you can't fall in love with a book.  But it is so much more than that.  The Bible is God's word to us.  When we have a love letter from someone precious to us, we treasure that letter and read it over and over again, memorising every phrase and hiding them away in our hearts (or at least I do, perhaps I am just an old romantic).  It's the same with God's word.  When we treasure those words and try to live our lives by them, we will see our lives change.

So, how do we help our kids fall in love with the Bible?  We bring it to life.  Choosing appropriate Bible stories for their ages, we can read, act, draw and make them out of lego, duplo etc,  and of course laugh over them (yes, we are allowed to do that too).  We can help them apply these stories by bringing them in to every aspect of our lives.  Daniel and the lion's den, for example, is a great story for anxiety over starting a new school.  God protected Daniel, and so He will protect them.  These words are not just for adults, they apply to our children too.  For under 7's, we have found 'The Jesus Storybook Bible' to be a fantastic resource that not only speaks to our children, but has also been known to make me cry too! (http://www.jesusstorybookbible.com/)  We have also used lots of Bible story cd's, which are brilliant for car journeys or bedtime (especially when you can't bear to read them yet another story...).

As our children grow older, we can encourage them with bible reading notes to help them develop good habits for themselves.  Finding a good time in the day to do this is sometimes hard, but each family is different.  There are lots of great resources out there, but we use 'XTB' and 'Discover' from The Good Book Company (http://www.thegoodbook.co.uk/children).  These have always been age appropriate and enjoyed, even by boys who don't like writing (and believe me, my boys hate writing).

This isn't the job of the Sunday School or Kid's Club Leader, it's our privilege and as we teach our children to love God's word, we give them strong foundations on which to build the rest of their lives. 

So, get donning those tea-towels and start letting God's word captivate the hearts and minds of your children - it is an investment worth making!



Monday, 1 July 2013

Whose Job? Part 3: Dulling down our Kids

I love this quote from D.L Moody, a preacher in the late 1800's:

"It is a masterpiece of the devil to make us believe that children cannot understand religion. Would Christ have made a child the standard of faith if He had known that it was not capable of understanding His words?"
 In other words, Jesus told his disciples (and that includes us if we follow him) to have faith like children.  Would he have said this if he thought that children couldn't understand his words?


Now, I know from bitter experience that very often children 'seem' to not understand our words.  Selective deafness is a well-known and very frustrating condition that many children (including mine, regularly) suffer with.  Actually, I think the parents suffer more than the children.  It mostly occurs when I say "time to turn the screens off" or "make sure you lift the toilet seat up before you.... oh, too late". 

But when talking to our children about our faith, I think we often lower our expectations.  Perhaps we miss out the bits we think they won't understand.  Sometimes, I think these missing bits are vital to their faith but because we don't want to make anything sound weird or freaky, we exclude them from our discussions.  We dull down the exciting, mind-blowing riches that God has given us because we aren't sure that our children can quite cope with it yet.  If we don't teach our children those all-important truths, what we are actually doing is giving them a false gospel.  Life as a follower of Jesus is thrilling.  If we teach our children the 'head knowledge' but don't allow them any experience of God when they are young, it's like having Christmas without the presents.  We all know it's Christmas day, but we're not going to make a big fuss about it.

Of course, faith, particularly with children, is a journey and we will not understand everything immediately.  We can't expect to suddenly understand every theological concept in the Bible.  But we can expect our children to understand and experience more.  In fact, they often accept biblical truths more than we do because they don't have all our hang-ups.

Let's teach our children to hear from God when they are young.  Let's get them baptised in the Holy Spirit before they enter their difficult teenage years.  It will be a vital piece of their armour to get them through.  Let's get them praying for healings and miracles.  Let's teach them about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and see them modelling them for the rest of the church.  It's all for them!  They are not excluded!  Let's build their faith by experiences of God as well as all the vital knowledge and truth of the Bible.  Imagine the kinds of adults they will become if they have spent their childhood in the presence of God!

As adults we should be following their lead of faith, not the other way round.  Let's stop dulling down our kids and expect more of them.  We might be very surprised!

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Dear Nerf

Dear Nerf,

I am sure that you are very proud of your products and, indeed, many boys and young men enjoy the high quality nature of them.

Please spare a thought, however, for the mothers of your product users.

Not only are we ambushed from every vantage point in our home, but we also have to become expert war negotiators when smaller siblings are shot without warning. Nerf bullets collect in every corner of our houses, leading to difficulties in cleaning. Stairs become particularly dangerous to climb without becoming a target. We have to endure lengthy war tactics discussions and prolonged lectures on the benefits of each particular nerf product, often looking them up on the Internet whilst attempting to prevent out eyes from glazing over. If we take the guns and other paraphernalia out anywhere we have to spend a large proportion of our time searching for bullets to prevent grumpiness on the way home. And if we are accidentally 'shot', we are then the subject of much laughter.

Perhaps you could include a guide for parents with a health warning (WARNING -THESE PRODUCTS MAY INCREASE INSANITY IN PARENTS) with each product, just so that we are aware of the risks before purchase.

I would be most grateful if you would consider my suggestion.

From a war-weary Mother.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Whose Job? And How? Part 2 - Surviving the Tuts

I'm hot and sticky, trying to keep my toddler still and quiet while someone in the meeting prays out very slowly and softly. I see people straining to hear over the noise of my protesting child. He kicks his legs and accidentally knocks over his brother's blackcurrant squash all over someone's expensive bible. Could it get any worse? I feel the eyes on me and I see the mouths begin to tut and heads start to slowly shake. How come I am the only mother in here with the misbehaving toddler?

At least, that's how it feels.

The truth of the matter is, the toddler isn't (always) misbehaving. He's just being himself in a room not especially set up for small children. And he's probably not the only one.

As tempting as it is (and believe me, I have sat and sobbed my way through church meetings) we shouldn't just give up taking our small children to meet with the church family, because that is exactly what it is - family. We need each other, including noisy, small children who won't sit still. So how do we actually survive without going insane?

I don't want to give a list of 'do's and don'ts' here because each family is very different, but there are some principles that can be applied to most of us.

Firstly, know that God loves children. He WANTS them to come to him, even if they shout and have biscuit crumbs all over their faces and mud on their trousers from the park which you didn't notice before you left the house and then hastily tried to clean off with a baby wipe.

Secondly, having children around helps the adults who've forgotten what it's like to be a child to think about God's fathering of us. Seeing a little one run up to their Dad with open arms and then be swung around reminds us that God wants us to run into his arms so that he can delight in us. Children can often be a living statement of how God wants us to be.

Thirdly, go prepared. There is absolutely no way a small child who has just learnt to walk is going to sit still for an hour. They have new skills to show off! It is also impossible for even an older child to engage for that long (and let's be honest, I think sometimes it's tricky for us adults too). So we need to be prepared with activities, toys, crayons, paper - anything that you know will keep your child's attention for a short while. I used to sit right at the front with mine so they could see what was going on (and everyone else could see our parenting battles too...) and sing and worship from my place on the floor doing jigsaw puzzles or playing with play dough. As they grew older we would take instruments for them to play and join in with. Even now they are slightly older, I still find that they struggle sometimes to engage for the whole time. We always explain difficult words in songs and give them pens and paper and they often write out or draw their prayers so they are still joining in, but not necessarily singing.

Lastly, let's make sure that praying, singing and all the other things that happen when the church family meets together become 'normal' activities. If we are doing all these things at home, then our kids will naturally begin to join in when it happens somewhere else too.

Of course, church was never meant to be sitting in cold rows facing the front with everyone having to keep quiet until the music begins. Church in the New Testament was full of noise, chatter, excitement, hugs, tears, food and probably smells too. Children would have been welcomed and joined in with the fun as much as any adults. So, next time you begin to dread the tuts, remember that God is never tutting. Whilst your sons (and I speak from experience) are having a competition over who can make the best fart noises during someone's prayer, God is probably chuckling to himself, delighting in the sincerity and fun of the children who have been brought to him.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Morning Rush

Not being a morning person, I have been surprised to produce two little people who love to leap out of bed and face the world with fervour every morning.  This is very difficult to cope with for those of us who need a somewhat slower start to the morning.

Take this morning, for example.

In my non-morning state, I attempt to wake up the other non-morning person in the house.  I feel so sorry for him and hate waking him because I know just how he feels.  The other two are already dressed and downstairs, singing and making far too much noise.

Breakfast is a tricky affair.  The non-morning boy sits at the table half dressed with his duvet wrapped around him, staring.  The lively littlest boy takes large gulps of his drink to see how long his burps can be.  The oldest boy tells me facts about the history of KFC.  How can their brains actually function first thing?  It's not a pleasant breakfast and although I strive to be cheerful, the best I can manage is listening to them and giving them the odd smile.

After breakfast, I 'race' (think snail) around the house trying to find a clean short-sleeved shirt for now grumpy non-morning boy.  Apparently he hates long-sleeved ones, but all the others are in the wash so I am faced with the living-on-the-edge decision of upsetting him by making him wear a long-sleeved shirt (and therefore scuppering any chance of getting him to do anything else all morning) or giving him a dirty short-sleeved shirt from the bottom of the washing basket.  I'll leave you to imagine which choice I made.

Littlest lively boy is attempting to wash out his lunchbox, although 'wash' is not really an apt description.  'Playing with water' would be better, and water play in the morning before school is not a great idea.  Still, he's happy and not arguing with anyone, even if he is singing 'bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey'.  So I leave him be.

In the lounge a complicated negotiation over the wii is happening.  I listen for a while to see if they can work it out but when I realise things are going to quickly turn nasty, I intervene.  Unfortunately for me, the result is that 'Just Dance' is played, complete with blaring music.  My non-morning brain is now having a meltdown.

Eventually it is time to leave.  At least, that's what I think.  The boys clearly have other ideas and after I have asked them to put on their shoes a million times (and we have had a small compromise over which shoes will be worn - it's the end of the summer term and my standards are slipping extremely low), we can finally leave the house.

I breathe a sigh of relief.  We have conquered yet another morning.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Whose Job? And How? Part 1

I've had lots of lovely comments after my previous blog about our role as parents discipling our children. Afterwards though, I realised that it's all very well to preach away about whose job it is, but it might be helpful to provide some practical application so that we know how to do it! So, today's blog is the first part in the 'how'. And be prepared, it's not what you might expect.

Last weekend, my husband's job took him to an activity weekend with the charity 'Care for the Family' for parents and their children. On the first morning, they all went canoeing. My husband likes to think he is a bit of a pro and whilst everyone else went in canoes with four people, he persuaded the instructors that he was very competent and decided to 'go it alone'. Of course, this left him open to 'attack' and when it came (in the form of a friend pulling at ropes around his canoe)and he tried to sort it out, his canoe capsized and he fell in (much to the amusement of everyone else, I imagine). According to him, it wasn't his fault. Perhaps not, but if he hadn't been so macho and gone with others, it might never have happened!

And what is the point of this story (other than to laugh at him - which is always a good ending to a story)? The point is that when we try to 'go it alone', we fail. If we want to be the best parents we can be, we need to admit our weaknesses and ask for help. This is so very hard to do in our culture today when the competition for 'who can be the best parent' is ever knocking at our door, but if we don't let our defences down then when attack comes (in the form of a difficult day with the kids or at work, or a particular issue with our child) then we will capsize.

Who do we ask for help?

First and foremost, we need to ask our Father in heaven. As we parent our children, He Fathers us and He is the fount of all wisdom and grace when it comes to parenting. He has the best ideas and can inspire us with them. He gives us strength and energy when we feel like we have nothing left. We can be weak because He is strong. When we make mistakes we can come to Him and find His grace, and then carry on in the knowledge that He is with us. He is enough for us. As David in the bible says, He is our portion - just enough for all we need.

Secondly we need to be part of a community. We weren't made to be on our own. In the past, families lived close to one another and enjoyed the benefits of relationships with older and younger relatives. Family wasn't the two adults and two children locked away in different rooms watching different screens. It was enjoyment of one another, support from each other and time well spent together. Whilst we often no longer have that in our society, the church is the perfect 'replacement' for family. In the church we find people different to us who can offer us community. Our children may find surrogate Grandparents, Uncles, Aunties and cousins. We can find support from those who have walked our path before us. When our oldest boys were smaller, we were so very blessed to have a couple in our church who had grown up children who looked after us and supported us in our exhausted state. We will never be able to repay them for what they did for us, but they became such an important part of our family. If we never admit our weaknesses to others, they will never know our need for help.

We can't do it on our own. We need those around us and most importantly we need our Father in heaven. When we depend on Him and bring our family to Him, asking for his help and strength, we are modelling to our children their need for Him and for the community around them. We need to show them this otherwise, in their 'know-it-all' state, they will get in the canoe alone and will be in the perfect position for capsizing. Teaching them to go to God for all they need, even admitting their failures and weaknesses, is the most important lesson we can give to our children. We must model this to them, and I promise, it is the better way.


Friday, 14 June 2013

Whose Job?

I love serving the children in our church. I love the way they ask questions that adults would be too embarrassed to ask. I love their simple acceptance and faith. And I love the way they snigger about burps and farts one minute, and then pray the most eloquent prayers you will ever hear the next. They are inspiring, refreshing and harder to please than the average adult who sits in a sermon. Sometimes I learn more when I am with the kids than I do when I'm listening to a preach (If you are one of those who preaches in my church, sorry, but it's true!).

But 'Sunday school', 'kids club' or anything else you want to call it, whilst beneficial and a lot of fun, is not actually where our children grow in their faith. It's not the responsibility of the children's worker to teach our kids about God, it's ours.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say 'Children's workers, thou shalt take on the burden for growing the children in your groups to be followers of Jesus'. In fact, in Bible times, Children's workers didn't even exist!

Rather, we as parents are told to impress these truths on our children. "Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." (Deuteronomy 6). I think God knew that children aren't very good at listening when they are sitting still. That's why He suggests that we just bring truth into everything we do. We can walk to school and chat about God. We can eat a meal and discuss spiritual truths. We can think about what it means to follow Jesus when we lie down at night. This isn't the job of a Children's worker, it's the job for a parent.

It's our job to disciple our children. It's our privilege to introduce them to Jesus. It is our role to model following Him. If we don't do this, our kids will never know how to work out their faith in real life. If we don't admit mistakes or ask God for help in front of our children, they will never know that it's ok to show weakness. If we don't actively feed ourselves on God's word, our children will find unsatisfactory nourishment from elsewhere. If we are not full of the Holy Spirit, and teaching our children of their need for Him, they will not be all they can be in God. If we are not passionate about making disciples of others, and being people who will 'go' then our children will settle for less than they were made for. If we don't introduce our tweens and teens to wholesome and inspirational role models, they will look up to those who do not have the same values as us. Raising children is one of the most challenging environments to live out our faith in. They watch everything we do and hear everything we say. Scary, but true.

This is possibly the most important thing we will ever do in our lives. Let's not make excuses or pass the buck anymore. Let's 'man up' and serve our church and our community by raising radical disciples of Jesus who will follow Him whatever the cost.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Boat-rockers

One of our most memorable family moments, retold again and again, is our jet boat ride off the coast of Pembrokeshire. Fitted with life-jackets, we clambered into the boat and set off around various islands to spot seals. Much to the boys delight, and my terror, the boat driver decided to make it a more interesting trip by speeding into the open waters, circling round in 'doughnuts' so that the boat tipped up and bumping through crashing waves. Every time the boys re-tell the story, they laugh at my screams to them of 'HOLD ON!!!'. It really was terrifying (for me). But the worst of any ride in a boat for me is stepping on and off the side. Despite my utter relief at the end of the trip, I still had to make that climb off the boat.

Peter, in the bible, stepped off a boat too. His was a step of faith as he saw his friend Jesus walking on top of the water towards him. But as Peter decided to take the step, what did the others inside the boat feel? The boat was already being buffeted by the winds and Peter was about to make it a whole lot worse by stepping onto the side. You can't climb out of a boat without first putting your weight onto the side. When you do this, the boat rocks. It becomes unsteady until you are over the other side. What happened in that fishing boat, the moment the Peter stepped into the side? What did the fishermen shout to him? We will never know, but I can imagine that they were horrified that he was not only putting his own life in danger but theirs too as he rocked that already unsteady boat.

Sometimes taking a step of faith means we have to rock the boat. Peter cared about his friends, but he also knew that obeying his Master was of greater importance. Peter rocked that boat, and perhaps the faith of his fellow fisherman, by stepping out but the end result was that everyone in the boat worshipped Jesus and knew he was the Son of God.

How much are we willing to be boat-rockers in order to move ourselves and others forward in our faith? When we know that we must obey our Master, but everyone else in our boat is shouting at us to stop, what do we do? We fix our eyes on Him and we take that step. We wobble and we face uncertainty, but we put our faith in the One who has called us. We step out into the unknown in the knowledge that rocking the boat, whilst only the beginning of the journey, will bring about much-needed change in our lives and the lives of those around us.