A Nasty Word (Comparisons Part 2)

Duvet in the kitchen – I bet this never happens in so-and-so’s kitchen!

I wrote a few posts ago about comparisons: comparing myself to people around me in order to make myself feel good,  aka pride.  But there’s also another type of comparison which also escalated to a new level when I became a mum.  I compare myself to people who I think are better than me, or better off than me.  This makes me feel insecure, anxious and, self-pitying.  I don’t mean my many friends who are more patient, kind or God-dependent than me – they’re my godly role-models.  I can thank God for what I see in them, and ask Him to make me more like that.  If I’m honest, what bothers me more is the other stuff – the mum whose house is spick-and-span; the mum who’s thin three weeks post-birth; the mum who remains serene whilst packing for a holiday.  And it doesn’t even have to be real – oh no, I can invent comparisons.  I look around me and think, ‘I bet so-and-so’s living room never looks like this.’  How do I know?!  This is laughable in a way, but it’s a symptom of a serious problem.

When my second child, Ezra, was born, it quickly became clear that he had acid reflux.  This meant that after each feed he would be in a lot of pain and would squirm and cry until he fell asleep.  Then he’d wake up quite happy, have another feed and the crying/squirming routine would start again.  It was very upsetting, not to mention noisy.

At the same time, another lady in our church had also had a baby boy, and a mutual friend had been round to meet him.  I asked how they were doing, and my friend said apologetically, ‘Yeah they’re fine – he’s a really easy baby.’  Now of course, I didn’t want my friend’s baby to be ill or for her to be having a hard time at all.  But in the midst of my struggle with a sad baby, I was very upset to hear that another baby was easy!  I kept rebuking myself, but for days I couldn’t think about it without getting a sinking feeling in my stomach.  I was jealous!  But it was more than that.  Nothing like that should cause such a strong emotional response without it ringing alarm bells.  What was my problem?

The sad truth is, I do believe this huge upset was caused by idolatry in my own heart.  I know that ‘idolatry’ is a nasty word, but it’s true.  I’m not sure if it came down to wanting the perfect children, or wanting an easy life, or wanting to be the perfect mother, but it was probably a combination of these things which had taken a higher place in my heart than, well, God.

Here are three (not the only three) reasons that I should have been genuinely pleased for my friend’s blessing:

One – to God be the glory

‘For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To [God] be the glory for ever!  Amen.’ (Romans 11:36)

Everything that happens is for God’s glory.  He is sovereign and good, and worth all the praise.  So if my baby is absolutely marvellous, that’s for God’s glory.  If he’s a screamer, that’s for God’s glory.  This can be hard to accept.  I know some of you have had terrible, hard experiences with motherhood and with the rest of life.  Many things are not good.  But one answer to the ‘why’s of this life is that God is showing (glorifying) himself and making himself known.  And although it can be hard to accept, it’s actually wonderful news that everything is under God’s control, and he is in the business of showing us how perfect he is.

Two – God does not withhold good things from me

‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…’  Romans 8:28-9

This amazing promise tells me that everything that happens in my life is for my spiritual good.  God could give me the following: mould-free walls; step-free access to my home; children who enjoy tidying up.  He hasn’t given me those things (yet), but I know that this is for my spiritual good.  So anything I think I’m lacking (i.e. stuff I’m coveting) is not evidence of God being unfair or unkind to me.  How dare I even whisper this!  As Spurgeon says:

“As for his failing you,
never dream of it –
hate the thought of it.
The God who has been sufficient until now,
should be trusted to the end.”

If God chooses to give my neighbour a beautiful house, the ability to bake bread, a giant food budget, winsome and orderly children and a post-baby figure like Davina McCall, then I can be happy for her!  Because God has given me exactly what I need the most in order to make me more like his Son, Jesus.

Three – I need to be thankful to God, and get on with it

‘… when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift of God.  He seldom reflects on the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.’  Ecclesiastes 5:19-20

In light of points One and Two, I need to stop looking around at everyone else’s lot and accept my own!  I can ask God for the ability to accept my lot, then stop my self-absorbed reflecting and rather get on with the work God has for me to do today.  While I’m fretting, green-eyed, over my friend’s lot, I’m ignoring my own.  And I’ve so much to be thankful for.

If Jesus is number one, then I will a: want him to get the glory; b: want to be more like him and c: be thankful for everything he gives me.  If something else is number one in my heart, then I will be discontent, jealous and, frankly, not very nice.  Who wants to be friends with the ‘me’ described in those opening paragraphs?  Not you, I’m sure.

Perhaps you don’t play the comparison game, in which case you’re probably just wondering what on earth my problem is (I refer you back to the nasty word).  But whether you do or you don’t I hope that you can be encouraged today that God does not withhold good things from you, he deserves all the glory, and by putting him first you can be satisfied in him, and happy with your lot!

P.S. I do think that comparisons are a huge issue with parents, and I’d love to say more on this.  I’ve only scratched the surface, but I’d like to recommend the following book: Compared to Her by Sophie de Witt.  I’ll write a proper review of it too, but just wanted to plug it here because I learnt a lot from reading it – all credit to her!

And A Glorious New Year!


Did you have a nice Christmas?  I don’t know if you went to someone else’s house or whether you were cooking the dinner yourself this year.  Did you get any time to rest?  Did you feel appreciated – not just for your efforts on Christmas day, but also for the hard work you do all year?  Did you get a (small) gift which really showed you that you are noticed; that someone really knows what you like; that you matter?  I hope so.  But it’s not always the case.  Sometimes your ‘holiday’ comes and goes, and you haven’t had a break at all.  And you’re looking into 2014 knowing that it’s going to be the same hard work, day in and day out right up to the horizon and beyond.  You might be wondering, ‘What’s the point?’  Maybe you feel you could be doing something more.  More than wiping noses; washing school uniforms; grilling fish fingers.  Where’s your life gone?

Judith Kerr, the woman who wrote, amongst other things, The Tiger Who Came to Tea was on the TV recently.  The BBC made an interesting documentary about her life.  She had to flee from the Nazis as a child, and on this programme Michael Rosen (children’s poet) had come up with a theory that the tiger in the story represented a threat – someone who could turn up any time at your house and take your things.  I know: this is rather a ‘Santa isn’t real moment’ for Tiger fans, if it’s true. 

But do you want to know what Judith Kerr said about it?  She said that she and her young daughter were at home all day together, every day, and her husband worked long hours.  ‘We wished someone would come’, she said.  And then she said something like, ‘And why not have a tiger come?’  So she made up the story.  So here is a woman who as a mother is so lonely that she’d rather have a tiger come to her house and eat all her food (and drink all the water in the tap) than have another mundane day where nothing you’d like to remember happens.

Do you have tiger moments?  The days can seem very long, and a neighbour popping in for a favour can sometimes be the social highlight of the day.

And motherhood isn’t just lonely, it’s also really hard.  I think the hardest part is the fact I’m forced to deal with my own sin all day long.  There’s nothing to distract me from my impatience; on the contrary I’m erupting my impatience all over my 2-year-old.  My pride keeps slapping me in the face because there’s nobody to say ‘well done’ when my child shares without being asked to at home, and then has a tantrum in the supermarket because he can’t have a doughnut. 

I’m battling with sin day after day, week after week, and it’s such slow progress.  God in his grace is changing me by his Spirit – amazing! – but I get so impatient with myself.  Sometimes you think you’ve cracked something, swept out a sin, and then it’s so disappointing when you realise you’ve done it again the next day.  I recently chatted to a friend who felt convicted about a particular way she could love her husband more – we talked; we prayed; she felt encouraged to change.  The next week she did almost exactly the same thing again.  How deflating!  We want to stomp out the sin in our hearts, but it just keeps reigniting.

So there are physical and emotional things that are hard about being a mum – it’s lonely, it’s tiring, and you might feel that you’re wasting your time.  There are also spiritual things that are hard, because your sin keeps exposing itself, and with your children watching (and pointing it out) it’s a bit difficult to pretend it’s not there.

So, parents, what is my Happy New Year message to you?  Well, I read something recently in a book called ‘Washed and Waiting’ by Wesley Hill, which really encouraged me about my slow and agonising battle with my own sin.  He quotes the film ‘The Two Towers’, in which Sam the hobbit is wondering whether people will one day talk about the journey he and Frodo have been on: 

By rights we shouldn’t even be here [on this quest].  But we are… I wonder if people will ever say, “Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring.”  And they’ll say, “Yes, that’s one of my favourite stories.  Frodo was really courageous, wasn’t he, Dad.” “Yes, my boy, the most famousest of hobbits.  And that’s saying a lot.”

Then Hill writes this:

Many times in my experience … I have wished my life was different, that I had some other burden to bear – anything but this one.  But I have also felt that if Someone is watching – taking note; caring about each footfall, each bend in the trail; marking my progress – then the burden may be bearable.

When you read or watch Sam talking like that about his journey it’s really moving because you know that one day they will be celebrated for their bravery, and rightly so.  Their efforts do not go unnoticed.  And (as Wesley Hill writes) there is someone watching our every move, and He will reward us much more greatly than any community of hobbits could ever do! 

And in fact, the greater the struggle, the greater the glory we will receive:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Each time you again have to apologise to your daughter for losing it during tea time, or you lock yourself in the bathroom to avoid taking something out on the kids that’s not their fault, or you force yourself to give thanks because you’ve never felt so ungrateful in your life – it’s not for nothing.  It’s not for nothing! 

I don’t really understand how it’s going to work, but God in his grace and mercy will one day reward you according to how you handled each day with your kids.  Your Father puts you in these situations so that you will become more like Christ.  So there is a purpose, an eternal purpose, which by faith we can be sure of, even though we can’t see it.

People can encourage you, and so they should, that the hard work you’re putting in really does matter in this life too.  Your kids do need hot food and clean clothes, and they need love and stability.  They’re blessed to have you.  Please don’t underestimate the value of what you do for them physically and emotionally.  But also know this: that spiritually you are investing in your future glory.  And not just your own, but as you teach your children the gospel, and as they see you live it out and follow your example, by grace they too will receive glory from the Father when they come at last to heaven.  Stop and think about that!  What better pension plan could there be?

So if, this January, you find yourself comparing your ‘career path’ with that of your old school friends, or what might have been if you hadn’t had children, why not remember what an incredible gift God has given you in making a mother out of you: Your praise is not from men, but from God. 

Dickens on Kids: They never raise a blush

Before you ask, this is from last winter. No snow in London yet!

I’ve been re-reading A Christmas Carol, because it’s just so darn festive, and it makes you glad you live here and now, and it makes you thankful that you can go to the hospital when you’re ill, and did I mention that it’s festive? 

I wanted to show you this passage from ‘Stave Two – the First of Three Spirits,’ because it’s a lovely picture of childhood happiness.  Here the narrator (not Scrooge!) is describing a scene in which a large family of children play around with their adult sister.  I wish it had been their mother, but I think it probably is the sister and you just can’t rewrite Dickens!   But let’s just say it could just have easily been their mum!  You’ll see the narrator is really gushing over this young lady, and he can’t believe the audacity of her little brothers who are clambering all over her without any hint of inhibition.  I don’t know if you read much Dickens (!), but I think you should probably read this passage a couple of times through.  It’s worth it.  

They were in another scene and place, a room, not very large or handsome, but full of comfort… The noise in this room was perfectly tumultuous, for there were more children there than Scrooge in his agitated state of mind could count… The consequences were uproarious beyond belief; but no one seemed to care; on the contrary, the mother and [eldest] daughter laughed heartily, and enjoyed it very much; and the latter, soon beginning to mingle in the sports, got pillaged by the young brigands most ruthlessly.  What would I not have given to be one of them!  Though I never could have been so rude, no, no!  I wouldn’t for the wealth of all the world have crushed that braided hair, and torn it down; and for the precious little shoe, I wouldn’t have plucked it off, God bless my soul! to save my life… And yet I should have dearly liked, I own, to have touched her lips; to have questioned her, that she might have opened them; to have looked upon the lashes of her downcast eyes, and never raised a blush; to have let loose waves of hair, an inch of which would be a keepsake beyond price; in short, I should have liked, I do confess, to have had the lightest license of a child, and yet to have been man enough to know its value.

I think Dickens has really captured something true and beautiful about childhood here.  The last part describes, I think, a universal truth about kids.  By the time children are old enough to appreciate the blessing of relationships they have, those relationships have changed and they can’t go back to being children.  By the time your children appreciate all of the times you’ve changed their nappies, often while they thrash around and scream, they’ll probably be changing their own children’s nappies.  I’m not saying they don’t appreciate anything, but from their childish perspectives they can’t see the value of their parents (or other people in their lives) in the way that they will once their grown-ups.  They enjoy the relationships massively, but they’re not ‘man enough to know their value’.  And actually, like the children in the Dickens scene, they enjoy you more because of it.

This isn’t a bad thing.  So much of what you do for your children, and what you give them – and the fact that often it’s yourself you’re giving them – is taken for granted by your children.  My husband has said to me more than once, ‘The kids take you for granted, and that’s how it should be.’  I know that sounds a bit strange, because we think of ‘taking for granted’ as being necessarily negative.  But he means that they expect me to be there, always, and to keep being Mum.  It’s a given.  You might – I hope – have people around you who appreciate what you’re doing with your life.  They know that you’ve made sacrifices for your children, and that, frankly, your kids are very privileged to spend so much time with you.  But your kids don’t know any of that.  Even if you say to them (which I hope you don’t), ‘I gave up a rewarding and lucrative job for you!’  or something similar, they still won’t get it.  You’re their Mum (or Dad) – and they can’t take a step back and see you in any other light.

But most of the time, even if you’ve got lovely family and friends who appreciate you, nobody sees what you do.  There is no omniscient narrator, no fly-on-the-wall cherishing the happy moments in your home, or sympathising with you when everything happens at once and you’re really being tested.  You can tell your spouse or a friend at the end of the day, but it’s not really the same.  But, (and I suppose you know where I’m going with this) there is someone who sees everything you do.  And He thinks you’re precious, He values you, and He forgives your wrongs as well.  Please be encouraged, especially in the run up to Christmas, with all of the shopping and the list-making and the running between Nativity plays, that God values you most highly.  One day, you’ll meet God face to face and he’ll say, if you’re trusting in Christ, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ and it will all have been worth it.  In the new creation, nobody will underestimate or overlook you.  Alleluia! 

But there’s something else that we mustn’t forget.  When we serve our children, especially when it’s hard for us, we’re following the example of our Lord and Saviour.  There’s One whose entire life was a sacrifice.  He gave himself, and not for people who loved him and liked to play games and kiss him, but for his enemies.  There’s One who knew that only God his Father valued him.  The King who didn’t even have a bed to be born in; the King who was a child refugee; the King who as an adult ‘had nowhere to rest his head.’  There’s One who was underappreciated beyond our understanding – who was priceless, and yet was killed like a worthless criminal.  And in the end, when we see face to face King Jesus, who is our role-model and our righteousness, we won’t be saying, ‘Oh, finally someone who appreciates me!’  We’ll be casting our crowns before Him – the One who is worthy of all the glory and honour and praise. 

God bless us, everyone!

I know I’m already quoting Dickens, but this isn’t the proper Christmas Carol post – that’s still to come.  

Have you ever tried to do something festive and beautiful with your family? Christmas music on; candles lit; cattle lowing.  Here’s a reminder that the execution of such plans is often not quite as soft-focus and magical as we’d hoped.


Here, Swiss Family Brooks attempted to decorate a gingerbread house.  We even bought it flat-packed from Ikea to reduce the risk of meltdown.  However, in the end not even Mike’s Structural Engineering expertise could reverse the sabotage of Miriam’s elbows.  



But of course, the children loved it – and the gingerbread house tasted the same.  I do have a video of Ezra laughing his head off every time he added a smartie to the roof, but it’s far too blissful to show you here.

If a similar plan of yours has gone awry, please be encouraged that it’s not the end result that matters, but the fun you have in the process.  Now please excuse me while I go and apologise to my children for losing sight of this!


This Christmas look down to the God in the manger


Please pause the internet Christmas shopping and take a couple of minutes to hear this excellent spoken word about Santa, and how we often view God.  It’s no bah-humbug!  (Christmas Carol post to follow – don’t think I’m joking.)

This was the trigger for an in-hindsight-amusing conversation with Miriam about Santa in Peppa Pig: ‘So you see, Miriam, Peppa had never met Santa but you can speak to God every day’ (Cue blank/confused/’can we watch another episode now?’ expression from eldest child.)

“Santa rewards those with good behaviour;  Jesus draws near to the broken as Saviour.”

Let’s Raise the Bar (Comparisons Part 1)

Comparing washing piles – Ezra wins.
Guess who’s a 2-yr-old boy?

I’ve learnt a lot recently about comparisons.  Part of our nature is that we compare ourselves to other people.  One big problem with this is that we become complacent about our sin – if we believe we’re sinners at all.  If we’re Christians, we know we are sinful, but on a day-to-day basis we often slip into the habit of looking around and thinking with a nod, ‘Yeah, I’m doing alright!’

It strikes me that nowhere is this more prevalent than in the world of parenting.  Even before your baby is born, you start to compare yourself/the baby/the pregnancy with others.  Some of this is just to check that everything’s normal – but not all of it.

Let me give you a few examples, in case you’re not so sure.  Let’s take the topic of your child’s eating habits.  In the part of the city where I live, there are a growing number of children who have very weak bones because their (extremely wealthy) parents have fed them nothing but fruit and veg.  In fact, when my daughter was a baby her growth slowed, and the Health Visitor assumed I was starving her of carbs.  (In actual fact, she is about two-thirds rice cake.)

And of course, I also live near many parents who feed their children crisps and sweets for breakfast, and fried chicken and chip-shop chips for tea most nights.  They too are malnourished, but in a different way.

So here I am, with my Annabel Karmel Meal Planner, feeling rather smug.  Aren’t I marvelous – my children eat a selection of food from each food group (no veg, but I don’t dwell on that).  They snack on fruit; they feast on meat – my daughter confessed at a party recently that she’d never before eaten jelly and ice cream!  Well can’t I just pat myself on the back and thank God that my kids are so lucky to have me?  (I may as well be saying, ‘Thank you God that I am not like this tax collector…’)

Let’s see – are there any other examples?  What about how much TV my children watch, how often I read the Bible to them, how many extra-curricular activities I pay for them to do, how I dress my children, whether I breast or bottle feed, whether we eat meals together, whether they watch Disney, how much time I spend reading to my children, what kind of school I send them to, whether I make them wear a helmet or not, etc. etc. etc.

Of course, many of these things do matter a great deal.  But instead of comparing myself and looking down on others, why don’t I stop looking around me for a minute and look at where God has actually set the bar?

I’ve been reading Ezekiel, and learning about how the prophet sees a vision of the likeness of God’s glory, which is absolutely mind-blowing: ‘When I saw it, I fell face down…’ (Ezekiel 1:28)  And not only that, but we have seen God’s glory in a bigger way, since Jesus showed us his glory, particularly at the cross.  There, the holiness of God; his love; his justice; his mercy and grace are blasted out to the world for all to see: ‘We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’  (John 1:14)

So what standard does this glorious God set?  Jesus says, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’  Hmmm.  When I think about that, I don’t feel so proud of myself.  How does God feel about my sin?  Look at the cross – he poured out his wrath on his Son because of it.

Can you imagine Ezekiel strolling up to the image of God’s glory and saying ‘OK, but do you know I fed my children cereal for breakfast every day!  And no sugary drinks!’  Ridiculous I know, but in my heart I whisper that to God when I’m feeling proud.

The right response to God’s glory is to bow down and worship him, and to cry out for mercy – which he freely gives.  That should be our response, no matter who we are or what we’ve done.  I need to keep reminding myself of this, especially when I’m comparing myself to parents who in my sinful opinion are not as competent as I am. (Gosh, don’t I sound like a delight?)  God’s not judging me by comparison.  He is holy.

As a church community, I think we can help each other out with this a lot too.  We’re always having examples of ‘bad’ parenting thrust in our faces – in the press, at the school gate, or maybe just people we know.  So when a wonderful parent in our church says things like, ‘Oh I really lost my patience today with my kids,’ or ‘I just wish I could be more joyful about motherhood,’ we think, ‘But you’re fantastic!  You’re the best mother I know!’  And often we console them by saying things like, ‘Oh that’s understandable/everyone feels like that sometimes/you’re much more patient than I am’ etc.

Now I’m not saying we should be judging each other at all – and we definitely should encourage the good we see God doing in people. But if someone is feeling convicted of sin, they need to hear the gospel.  And by ‘gospel’, I don’t mean ‘Oh don’t worry, there are loads of people who are much worse than you!’  That’s not good news at all!

Instead of making each other feel better by implying our sin doesn’t really matter, let’s acknowledge that it does matter and remind each other that God has dealt with it all at the cross.  You don’t need to feel guilty – not because you’re perfect, but because God has removed your guilt from you:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1: 8-9

I’d much rather be reminded that I am purified from all unrighteousness than be cheered up by the knowledge that someone else is worse than I am!  Not only is it more wonderful, but it’s also the truth that I need to hear.

So if you’ve recently entered the world of comparison-parenting, or you’ve been a resident for a long time, may I encourage you that you’re actually worse than you think you are!  And if you’re in Christ, God sees you as righteous, holy and perfect:

‘Blessed are those
whose transgressions are forgiven
Whose sins are covered;
Blessed is the one
Whose sin the Lord will never count against them.’
(Romans 4:7-8, quoting Psalm 32)

P.S.  You might be thinking – ‘But when I compare myself to people around me, I feel worse, not better!  I feel like the worst mum in the world!’  I’m hoping to write about this in my next blog post!  (Or at least one in the near future…)

Bible Overview Advent Calendar

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Well isn’t this the most festive sight you ever did see?  No?

I know it’s doesn’t look great but please don’t be put off by the beige/white combo and the peeling paint which I’m trying unsuccessfully to hide!  It’s actually completely marvellous!

This is an advent calendar for young children, which my wonderful friends created and have kindly given to me.  Each day you turn over the relevant day to reveal a picture (see the second photo), look at a Bible story together, maybe do a song and colour in the picture.  Eventually your children will have built up their own colourful Bible overview!  Brilliant!

If you would like to do this with your children, I can email you the teaching guide and the sheets for each day.  You will need:  A functioning printer or access to one; some string (unless you choose to do it some other way – a scrapbook? placed around the room?); a children’s Bible.  There are really useful notes for each day so don’t feel you have to be an expert to give this a go!

I don’t seem to be able to post the documents on here for you to download, so if you’d like them please could you post a comment below and I’ll email them to you.  Why not let me know your favourite Christmas song (Christian or secular, sorry if that offends!) to get us all in the mood!  You comment by clicking on the speech bubble, top right.

If I manage to make mine look more festive (could it get any worse?), I will post a picture just to cheer us all up!  Happy Advent everybody!

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Push, Push, Glide: Reflections on my Daughter’s Fourth Birthday


My daughter turned four last weekend.  She’s my eldest, and four seems much older than three.  Three-year-olds can be classed as toddlers; four-year-olds go to primary school.  Yikes.

Miriam has been asking me for months if she can go ice-skating.  Living in central London without a car and with two younger children, this is not an easy request to grant, so I told her that when the winter outdoor rinks sprang up we would go.  This coincided nicely with her birthday, so I booked us a lesson on her birthday – at the crack of dawn, incidentally!

On the way there, I was thinking about how relieved I feel when I look back over the years since her birth.  I’m relieved because I found things so much harder when she was first born than I do now.  I expect most people feel like that, although I know some mums love the baby phase and find the pre-school phase harder.  I don’t want this to sound ungrateful, because children are such a precious gift, but I found the first three months in particular extremely difficult.  I feel so relieved to have gotten this far!  Many thanks to God for his grace!

When we arrived at the ice rink, Miriam was given a stabiliser to hold – they give out heavy, plastic penguins with handles so children can push them along and spend less of their time prostrate on the ice.  But from the moment she stepped onto the ice, Miriam hated it.  Several teachers tried to help her – ‘Come on, take baby steps, I’ve got you, yep small steps, you won’t fall, you’re safe’ etc., but to no avail.  She was miserable.

One of the teachers told me to try waiting inside to see if that helped Miriam to get engrossed and start to enjoy it, but as I watched her through the window she just stood there, morosely gripping her penguin, watching the other children slide and shuffle about.  It was, for both of us, excruciating.

It did strike me that her experience on the ice was a tiny bit like my experience when Miriam was first born.  She had wanted to ice skate because she’d seen it on the TV and it looked fun.  It looked elegant and graceful.  It looked rewarding.  I think she probably assumed it would come naturally – that she’d get it right first time.

My ideas about motherhood were about as naïve as Miriam’s were about skating.  Even when people told me ‘it will be hard at first’, I still didn’t really know.  You can’t know, can you? Not until you get out there on the ice.  Until day three of breastfeeding.  Until no amount of pacing will stop the crying.  Until you realise that between you and your husband, despite your combined intelligence and the books you’ve read, you have no idea what you’re doing.  (I have friends who between them are Doctors three times over, who have at least once managed to put their baby’s disposable nappy on back to front AND inside out!)

One thing that it hurts to admit is that it’s actually a good thing that I didn’t and don’t find motherhood easy.  True, this is a result of the Fall – frustrations and disappointments and poo down the wall won’t happen in heaven – but God is also using this season to make me more like Christ.  It’s hard to be proud when you’re crying because baby won’t get his wind up, or crying with the pain of breastfeeding or just crying because you haven’t had any sleep, or crying just because.  This is when we learn to depend on God more.  If I’d found motherhood easy, then I’d have been even more proud and self-sufficient.  Instead, God chose in his kindness to refine me: to make me more pure.

It’s amazing how a change in perspective can affect you.  Since I’m older than Miriam, I know that ice skating is hard and you have to practise, fall on your bum fifty times, get back up and practise some more before it gets remotely fun.  And yet, when I became a mum for the first time I was so shocked at how hard it was!  (I don’t know why I’m using the past tense – I still regularly get surprised by how hard it is.)  But as we struggle and learn, we’re growing.  God is giving us character – which we wouldn’t get if the lesson were easy.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  Romans 5:3-4.

I have to admit that, compared to God, I am about as wise and patient through difficulty as my four-year-old daughter.  Thanks be to God that he has the right perspective, and he’s there with me on the ice, holding my hand and cheering me on.

And do you know, it’s not all bad!  Even though Miriam was stubborn, reluctant, sullen and uncooperative, I could see glimpses of a talent for skating.   I know that she didn’t believe me when I said from the sidelines, ‘You’re doing it!  That’s it!’  And when your mum or your friends or your husband say to you, ‘You’re doing a great job’ and it’s week three and you’re just trying to keep your head above water, you might think, ‘as if!’ but they do mean it.  They’re seeing glimpses of the ability God has given you to excel at this particular line of work.

So I’d like to encourage you (no matter how old our child is, by the way!) – if you feel today like you’re slipping around and just getting cold and wet, please remember that God is growing your faith and your character, which is priceless – ‘of greater worth than gold.’ (1 Peter 6:7)  And the people you see gliding around have all been in similar positions to you, they’re just further along the journey. And slowly but surely you are making your way across the ice.  Small steps!

On an even more personal note, I would just like thank God for giving my daughter breath in her lungs for four whole years.  [Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  Colossians 1:17.  From emergency C-section until now, may I never forget that it’s the Lord Jesus who is holding us together every. single. day.