Grenfell

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Taken by my friend from her home

Eleven weeks on from the Grenfell Tower fire, I don’t feel ready to write about it.

But it was such a significant event that I don’t want to be silent about it. I’ve tried to organise my thoughts for you, but I’m very aware of my limitations, so please forgive me that this brief reflection will be inadequate. I’m hoping that the links I’ve added might be helpful too.

This is hard, because my overwhelming feeling about the tragedy is sadness.  And sadness alone doesn’t make for a good read. I live in the same Borough (area of London) as Grenfell, and I live on an estate with seven tower blocks.  Does this make the horror and pain of it more real to me?  Maybe. I do think that being local makes it feel more real – it’s affected people I know.  I’ve seen the tower in real life, and it’s much more chilling than it looks on the telly.  And because it’s more real, it’s harder to accept and move on from.  Nor do we want to accept it and move on.

The big headline for me about this whole thing has been this: Terrible Things Happen.  We might say we believe that, but in this society I don’t think we really do believe it.  If, like me, you had a happy childhood and grew up in a safe and healthy place, you may live day to day thinking that the worst thing just won’t happen.  We’re able to go through life thinking this because, on the whole, the worst things don’t happen to us.  When tragic things do happen, we consider them to be breaks from the norm.  However, do we know how unusual that is?

Less than eighty years ago our country was living through a period of sorrow, loss, want and fear that my generation of Brits cannot even imagine.  And even leaving war out of it, medical advances and social reform mean that most of us are living with levels of safety, comfort and good health that our ancestors wouldn’t have dared dream of.  So most of us can go through life enjoying ourselves, overcoming challenges and ticking off our bucket lists, feeling pretty confident that one day, when we’re really old, we’ll die peacefully in our sleep.

But in other countries across the world (and of course for many people in the UK), life isn’t like that.  They wouldn’t need to be told that Terrible Things Happen, because they’ve always known that.  And now, for many people in my local area (and those across the country who’ve been engaging with the news), this concept that Terrible Things Happen has for the first time become a horrifying reality.  This is a dangerous, broken world.  There is good in this world (as we’ve clearly seen in the amazing response to this tragedy) but there is also pain, horror and death.

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Overwhelmed by donations

Some people might say that if a whole tower block of people can go up in flames, then there can’t be a good God in charge of this world.  I might be thinking that myself if I’d lost my children in a burning building.  A post I wrote a while ago, This I Know, seems appropriate at this point. But I also want to share three thoughts about this with you:

  • Grenfell is the worst kind of reminder of the value of human life.  Staring up at the burnt out shell which represents so many families, and so many deaths, we feel overwhelmed by the tragedy of it.  But if there is no creator God, it’s hard to say why we feel that people are valuable – more valuable than other creatures.  And if people aren’t special, because they’re not made in God’s image, then we have no logical reason to mourn them.  If love is just caused by some chemicals in our brain making us want to reproduce, then the loss of Grenfell is meaningless.  Whether we live in a towerblock, a country mansion or a beach hut, I’m sure we all believe this was a tragedy, but can you explain why you feel that way?
  • Deep in our hearts, we all want justice.  If there is no God, then there will be no justice for Grenfell.  People might go to prison because of cladding, or building regulations, or council funding.  I doubt it, but they might – we’ll see.  But nobody deliberately killed all of those people.  At worst it was neglect, which is terrible, but it’s not murder.  Even if the blame could be given to one person or a small group of people, they could never be punished enough to make all of this right again.  So many deaths, so many lives ruined.  We feel deep down that there shouldn’t be such inequality and that the poor shouldn’t be neglected.  I’m thankful that God has made us to feel that way and that somehow, God will one day bring about justice once and for all.
  • If Terrible Things Happen and death is real, then it matters what will happen after we die.  The trouble with living a happy, safe and healthy life is that we can pretend we’re not going to die.  Friends, how confident are you that you know what will happen after you die? And what reason do you have for that confidence?

As Christians, we have a King who went through horror for us, who experienced the worst injustice for us, and who did all of that so that we could go to a place where there will be no brokenness, no mourning and no pain.  This world isn’t how it was made to be, and that’s why we’re so sad about the things going on in it. But there is hope in Jesus, hope for a perfect world – a world of safety, justice and joy.  And this hope in Jesus is on offer to everyone – whether you live in a tower block or a Kensington mansion.

Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
    Do not forget the helpless.
Why does the wicked man revile God?
    Why does he say to himself,
    ‘He won’t call me to account’?
But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
    you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
    you are the helper of the fatherless…
You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;

    you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,

    so that mere earthly mortals
    will never again strike terror.
Psalm 10.12-14;17-18.

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Close Quarters – Smooth Stones

If anyone loudly blesses their neighbour early in the morning,
    it will be taken as a curse.

A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping
    of a leaky roof in a rainstorm;
restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand.
 As iron sharpens iron, 
so one person sharpens another.

Proverbs 27.14-17.

 

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As I said, I’ve been thinking about space.  Here’s another thing I’ve noticed during the school holidays.

I remember reading years ago in the book Loving the Little Years something about rocks in a jar.  I think putting rocks in a  jar might be something people do (?), but I lent that book to someone so I can’t check the facts.  Anyway, I give credit to Rachel Jankovic for planting the rock-jar seed in my mind.  I think people maybe put rocks in a jar and shake it to make them smooth?  Seems a strange strategy to me but let’s just imagine it’s a thing.

Living in my flat with four children and a lovely husband can feel rather like being a rock in a jar with other rocks.  We bump into each other, a LOT, and not just physically.  The children do “get on” well, but they also annoy each other, and separating them for some quiet time is diffiult.  And it’s not just them, of course.  I’ve never been someone who particularly enjoys “alone time”, until now. I’ve started closing doors for a bit of peace, but it’s counterproductive because it just means that I get really irritated whenever anyone opens said door.  I close the bedroom door to get dressed, which I’m pretty fast at, and am interrupted six times with various emergencies like “he hit me” or “can I have an apple,” or maybe just my poor husband coming in for his belt, only to be greeted by a huffing and puffing wife.  Incidentally, from my open bedroom door there is a clear line of sight to the front door, so if that’s open there’s a clear line of sight to the outside world.  You get the picture.  Not ideal.

There is nowhere in my home that is out of earshot of anywhere else in my home.  So it can get loud and a little painful.  It’s intense.  We’re very much aware of each other’s and our own sin.  This can all get pretty tiring.  There’s no space to brood, or sulk or be antisocial.  So to use the rock-jar metaphor, it is as though we’re bumpy rocks that are being ground down in a pretty intense way.

What’s encouraged me during the school holidays as we’ve spent time in more spacious places or with a less intense schedule, is that I can see that my children are smoother rocks than they once were.  In fact, I’m pretty sure they’re smoother than they would be if they hadn’t been in such a small jar with so many other stones.  They’ve had the fast-track training course in dealing with other sinful people, and so they’re learning patience.  And living on top of each other means that we can nip things in the bud a bit easier than if we were spread out over several floors.  (They’re also heavy sleepers – hooray!)

For example, I’ve been trying to encourage (/begging) one of my children to be more helpful, because it’s not something that comes naturally to him.  And just when I thought this was getting absolutely nowhere, I noticed these holidays that he is actually becoming more helpful.  (While I’ve been writing this I’ve had to go and deal with one of my children about five times because he won’t stay in bed.  So we’re definitely a work in progress!)

Now I’m not saying this can’t be achieved in a bigger jar and with fewer stones, but this has just been my own experience.  I don’t actually know how it would have been if we lived somewhere else or had fewer children.  However, I’m encouraged that what often feels like an impractical or impossible situation may actually be one that’s helping us all to become more Christ-like.

This all helps when I’m thinking about getting all the stones back into the jar, to begin a new term in the 3-bed with the busy schedule and the growing children.  Also I think I will get a lock for my bedroom door.

As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.

 

As always, please share this if you find it helpful, and gracious comments are most welcome 🙂 

Close Quarters, Creative Quarters?

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I’ve been thinking about space.

First, a word or two about the size of my home.  It’s a 3-bed flat, which is quite extravagant in central London, and it’s quite spacious for a 3-bed flat in Central London.  So we’re very grateful for our flat.  Without it, we wouldn’t live here.  That sounds obvious but it’s true.  So please don’t hear the following as a complaint, but rather a reality of our family life.

I think it is fair to say that our home is quite a small space for six people to live in.  I don’t think anyone would rebuke me for finding it crowded – which I do.  I sometimes wonder whether we’re just being completely ridiculous, trying to raise four children in this flat.  I mean, I think my brother’s hallway in Glasgow is bigger than my living room (which also serves as a dining room/craft room/play room/Bible study room/homework room).

I have no laundry room, no second bathroom (master/children’s/guest or other), no mud room, no yarn room.  I only mention these rooms I don’t have because they’re all mentioned in blogs or parenting books I’ve read.  And sometimes it seems hard to apply the priniciples from those blogs/podcasts/books to my own situation, since I don’t have the facilities to which those authors have become accustomed.

So does it matter?  Is parenting basically the same whether you have a games room in the basement or, well, not (i.e. no basement, or loft, or garage, or driveway, or porch)?

Well, one thing I’m realising more and more is that everyone’s situation is different.  Even living in identical houses in the same town, two families are never going to be the same.  This is obvious, almost embarrassing to point out, and yet I think we often worry when we notice differences in our families, as if that’s not a good thing.  So we can take encouragement from other families, but we shouldn’t expect to or even try to be carbon copies of them.  God designs diversity.

I was listening recently to a podcast where two mums were talking about being creative and wanting their children to be creative.  And I agreed with them, and I want that for my children, but I felt a bit sad thinking about how hard it is to be creative when there isn’t any room at home to swing a cat, never mind build one out of papier mache.  When my children want to do something with glitter, or glue, or even just wool, inwardly I groan because they can’t do it far away enough from my toddler, and also it’ll soon be a mealtime and we’ll have to move it all out of the way so we can eat.

And I don’t want to be the inward groaner.

But one thing occurred to me.  I can help my children to be creative, but I need to figure that out for my own situation.  In other words, I need to think creatively about how to enable and encourage creativity in my home, because of the fact that my home is small  (small and lacking in ventilation).  It also occurred to me that it might be a blessing for my children to have a mother who has thought creatively about how to help them with this.  Maybe it will flex some creative muscles in me that will make me a more creative mother. 

And that reminded me that God, our Heavenly Father, actually could give us a bigger home if he thought it would be good for us.  He’s not dismayed or baffled by my home.  So maybe he’s using it for our spiritual good.  And when I say maybe, I mean of course he is.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6v31-34.

(Or you might say, “Do not worry, saying “where will they sit?” “how will they sleep?” or “what if they want to learn the drums?” For parents in the world run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them (perhaps not the drums).  But follow Jesus, and teach them to follow Jesus, and things will work out well for you, according to His will. So don’t worry!”)

Trials and Temptations

 

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Whoever drinks this water will be thirsty again…

I deleted my introduction. Will this do instead?

I’ve been thinking about what to do when a crisis happens and you still have a family to look after.  Of course, crises can vary massively, so these thoughts won’t be relevant to everyone.  I’m not really thinking here about people in life-changing-tragedy situations.  (At some point we do need to talk about Grenfell Tower, but I’m waiting until I have some idea what to say.)  I’m kind of thinking about times when you thought you were already stretched to your limit, and then something else comes along and shouts, “You call that hard work?”  Maybe a family member falls ill, maybe you get made redundant, maybe you lose a good friend.

The Lord knows what’s coming round the corner, but I do not.  So sometimes, storms come at a time I find very inconvenient.  During the storms, I find I’m tempted in new ways, and I wanted to share three of those temptations with you here.  I hope you find it helpful, even if you can’t relate.

Temptation One: Grind to a Halt
You know those scenes they sometimes do on TV in which one person stands still and everyone around them moves in a blur? Sometimes when something weighs heavily on your mind or heart, you feel like that one motionless person in a crowd of bustlers.  But when you’re a parent, the crowd is usually your family, and if you stand still and ignore them, things will happen.  They will get hungry, they will run out of clean clothes, and they will turn on each other.  Your baby will put things in the toilet bowl that should not be there, and your son who’s old enough to know better will draw on the walls.  Then there will be nothing for dinner, and you will feel ten times worse.
So while you might be working at limited capacity, I do recommend you keep doing some things.  It might help to put a routine in place.  For example you could try to put a load of washing in the machine every night before bed, which will come on in the morning and be ready to unload around breakfast time.  Some nights I really don’t want to do this, but forcing myself to do it just keeps things ticking along a bit better.  I always plan my meals, but when things are hard I try to plan more simple meals that won’t cause further stress. I sometimes fail at this spectacularly, but often it does help.  (Remember, there’s always brinner.)
You might not be able to do much, but you can do some things.  People may be relying on you (particularly small people), and stopping altogether is a downward spiral.

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Temptation Two: Running on empty.
In my bathroom we have a picture on the wall which is a page from Judith Kerr’s book, “The Tiger Who Came to Tea.”  It’s a picture of Sophie getting undressed for her bath.  The page reads, “And Sophie found she couldn’t have her bath because the tiger had drunk all the water in the tap.”  I think this is sweet because, to a child, that could totally happen.  Tigers aside, let’s face it, it’s impossible to empty a tap of its water. I’m no plumber, but I know water keeps coming.  Ask anyone whose child has plugged the basin and left the tap on.
Sometimes we can feel like we’re giving and giving, but we’re starting to run dry.  We soon have nothing left to give.  However, let’s remember that our God gives to us from the abundance of his ever-flowing grace.  He’s the spring of living water.  (Let’s face it, a spring is like a tap, but better.) I need to keep going back to Him to receive life, and stop trying to use my own strength or rely on anything else to get me through.  Food, friendship and music are all wonderful gifts from God, but I can’t rely on them to get me through the day.  I need to go to my Heavenly Father, feed on his word, and pray to him for help from the Helper.

Temptation Three: Burden my Children
Sometimes things get really hard, and your children just don’t get it.  They keep asking for things, they keep waking you up, they keep needing you.  That’s because they’re children.  I want my children to learn that they’re not the centre of the universe, and that they need to be considerate of others.  I also want to be honest and truthful with them.  But sometimes it’s tempting to tell them more than they need to know, as a short-cut to getting them to obey.  For example, maybe my husband loses his job, and we’re struggling to live within our means.  Then one of my children has a tantrum because he wants new trainers and I’ve said no.  In my frustration, I could lecture him about how hard it is for us because Daddy has lost his job, we don’t have any money, we’re worried about how we’re going to buy food, Daddy is really depressed and so you just need to forget about your selfish trainer desires, OK?  That would probably work, but would it be for his good?  Or just for my own satisfaction?  Perhaps instead it would be better to talk to him about what’s going on in his heart, and how even if we had the money I’m not sure it would be wise to give in to his tantrums about trainers.  I must remember that my children are children, and that I can teach them to be loving and considerate without giving them more information than they need at this moment.  Plus, if I say too much I will regret it and, again, feel much worse.

These are just three thoughts.  They’re not intended to make anyone feel guilty but I hope instead they might be helpful.  Finally, I wanted to say that it’s really important, when in a storm, to ask for help.  You need good friends, and you need to tell them what they can do to help you.  If they offer help in a general way, give them specific ways that they can help you. It will bless them and you.

Praise the Lord.

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Light that foll’west all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

George Matheson.
Click here for a lovely modern version of this hymn.

Win When Your Singing

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Sometimes I have a really bad idea.  Like when I think that my child can travel a long distance on a balance bike.  Or when I think that I can get on the tube in rush hour with a child, a child’s bike and a baby.   It seems that “overreaching” is often my downfall.  Ever the optimist.

But sometimes, less often, I have a really good idea.  My good ideas tend to come in musical form.  I think of a song, usually to help in a difficult situation, and it sticks. And rather than keep these songs to myself, I thought I’d share them with you in case they can be of any use in your family.  And perhaps you’d like to share with us any songs or other useful brainwaves of your own?

My most recent composition (she chuckles), is a teeth-brushing song.  A song for when one is brushing one’s teeth.  Or rather, for when your toddler is reluctantly brushing his/hers.  While I’m helping/encouraging my 3 year old to brush his teeth, I sing this song, to the tune of “I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair” from South Pacific:
“I’m gonna brush that [weetabix] out of your teeth,
I’m gonna brush those [shreddies] out of your teeth,
I’m gonna brush that [yogurt] out of your teeth,
And send it on its way.”
You just insert whatever they’ve eaten into the song, obvs.  I’ve also discovered that as a bonus, this actually helps them with sequencing!  If we do the food in order (or reverse order), apparently that helps them with maths.  Whoop!  My son loves this, and it certainly distracts him from the fact that he doesn’t want to brush his teeth.

An old favourite of mine was partly thanks to Rachel Jankovic, who I think in her book “Loving the Little Years” writes about having little ropes or ribbons attached to her pushchair for her older children to hold onto while they walked around the shops.  She called them “stations”, but we’re not as fun as that.  Anyway, I tied a red plaited rope to my Maclaren and encouraged my then-2-year-old daughter to hold it while we walked along, to keep her close.  She wasn’t always keen, so I came up with this song to the tune of “Frere Jacques“:
“Red rope, Red Rope, 
Hold on tight, hold on tight,
Keeping up with mummy,
Keeping up with mummy,
Good girl, good girl.”
This worked a treat, as again it made her forget that she didn’t actually want to be obedient.  We still sing it sometimes, and the children fight over the red rope nowadays (sigh).

This one is a bit gross I suppose, so if you don’t have kids yet, stop reading now!  But when I was potty training my eldest and she was too small to sit on a normal sized toilet, but we were out somewhere and she had to use a normal sized toilet, I would hold her over the loo and sing this, to the tune of “London’s Burning
“Mummy’s got you, Mummy’s got you,
Do a wee wee, do a wee wee,
Well done! Well done!
Wipe your bottom, flush the toilet!”
Again, it got me out of some sticky situations if she was scared she’d fall in but clearly needed to go.  I would say, “come on, you’ll be fine.  I’ll sing the song!”  So dignified.

Another song which I’ve found really useful is the “Oh and Don’t forget” song from Show Me, Show Me on CBeebies.  It’s a great one to use on long car journeys.  I can’t find a link to the tune, but if you know it, you can make up verses like this:
“Steering, steering, hands upon the wheel,
Steering, steering, oh and don’t forget:
Windows, windows, wind them up and down,
Windows windows, wind them up and down (back to steering)
Wipers, wipers, swish away the rain,
Wipers, wipers, swish away the rain (back to windows, then steering, then another verse)”
Sorry if I’ve lost you on that one!

Another one I’ve stolen but definitely can’t take credit for is “I wanna hold your hand” by the Beatles, which sometimes helps my children to hold my hand when they really would rather just run in the opposite direction or into traffic.  (They do like to run towards traffic.)

We have other songs, but they’re more family specific, like the song about our door number (in case the kids ever need it!), and songs about our children.  I’ve mentioned before that Mike made up a song about dirty nappies to the tune of the South African National Anthem, but I’m not sure we know each other well enough for me to share that here.  But I would definitely recommend singing to alleviate boredom (such as when pushing your child on a swiiiing), or to cheer everyone up when things are hard (like when you’re not allowed to run into the busy road even though you really want to).  And when everyone’s in a really bad mood, you’ve got to whip out a Seeds Family Worship number or other memory verse song to give yourself some perspective, am I right?

So how about you?

 

Book Recommendation: Hope When it Hurts, Kristen Wetherell & Sarah Walton

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There is one great sign that you are loved more than you thought.  It is the cross.  And there is a still further sign that you will live in tis love forever.  It is the empty tomb.*

The cross is so precious to Christians – to those who know what it means for them.  But it seemed at the time to be a catastrophic end to a promising life.  Shattered dreams, hope lost.  And yet, the cross is where our King triumphs.  He pays our debt in full.  He breaks the power of death: our great enemy, our big problem.  Our God’s greatest victory was won through agony and apparent weakness.  And so it’s not surprising that as Christians, we suffer.

There are those who will tell you that suffering only comes from lack of faith, or disobedience, or even God’s mistakes.  But it’s a lie.  In this broken world, we should expect to suffer.  That’s why I want to recommend this book to you, Hope When it Hurts.  It’s a series of short chapters meditating on 2 Corinthians Chapters 4 and 5.  You could read one a day, or read big chunks at a time.  Either way, I think it’s a really precious resource.

This book explores the value of weakness: not only is weakness inevitable but it is also used by God to show his power and to bless us.

This book explores the blessing there is in suffering, as it draws us nearer to the all-sufficient God.

This book is honest about life – written by two women who are learning these lessons as they go along – and points us to the good, sovereign, gracious God who has a plan and will not abandon us.

If you’re not suffering right now, it’s likely that you will do in the future and/or that someone close to you is.  It’s also really important that we don’t trust in our earthly comforts but that we trust in God, through the “easy” times as well as the “hard” times.  Yes, we’re heading for a perfect world, but since we’re not there yet I think you will find this book to be worth its weight in gold.

If we think that suffering and blessing can’t co-exist, we will always be seeing shallow pleasures and comforts, and we will miss out on the deep blessings of walking closely with Christ in suffering.  The world to come means that we can be pained and privileged at the same time. (Hope when it Hurts, p.82.)

*From Jared Wilson, The Wonder-Working God, quoted in Hope When it Hurts.

Easter Teaching – it’s not too late!

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Hello, I wanted to re-post this blog post from last Easter, in which I shared how I’d used the wonderful book “The Garden, The Curtain and The Cross” to teach my children.  However, I don’t seem to be able to re-post things anymore so you’ll have to click on the link instead, please.  We really enjoyed it last year, especially making and tearing the paper “curtain.”
For another idea, hop over to “Resources” and scroll down to the Bloody Easter teaching (alternatively that link should work).
I think I’m going to try Resurrection Eggs this year, partly because my children enjoyed doing the first two with their aunt last week, and partly because the sales assistant in Oxfam managed to sell me a load of plastic eggs today…