Coming Up For Air

Last week I introduced you to Anna, whose daughter Jemima has Cystic Fibrosis.  Here she shares Part Two of her journey as a mother.  Thank you again, Anna, for your honesty.

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I’ve been deeply humbled and encouraged by the response to the first post I wrote for Cat’s blog. It cost me to pull myself back into those black and white days but I’ve been amply repaid by the kind words I’ve received and in knowing that I’ve not been alone in these feelings.

Two and a half years on and life looks very different. Jemima is a fully fledged little person, desperate to communicate from the moment she formed her first ‘oooh’ sound, determinedly social, a blur of life and energy. She plays hard, sleeps soundly and is chomping at the bit to start nursery in the spring. We do weekly tennis, gymnastics, trampolining and music classes, as well as a monthly running club and swimming whenever we can. We do library visits, craft sessions, playdates and lots of park trips. She loves her stuffed cats (including an eccentrically named feline called Cupompom: like cucumber + pompom), role playing with Duplo characters and bouncing on her 4 foot trampoline with her stuffed frog. Her favourite books are currently ‘Zog and the Flying Doctors’, ‘P is for Potty’ and ‘Toad Makes a Road’. Her favourite colour is green and her favourite foods are bear paws and smoked salmon. Her eyes are light blue, her hair is honey coloured and she has a double crown. She has enormous tantrums which she recovers from by lying on the sofa with her dummy and blanket. She twiddles her hair to fall asleep. She is both a very ordinary and a very extraordinary girl.

The process of coming up for air after Jemima’s diagnosis has been long and hard. People sometimes comment on how time has flown. For me, it has involved the longest nights I’ve ever known: nights I spent expressing milk and watching dawn break over the city while a newborn Jemima slept on the ward. Our life before her seems so remote. We have been extremely blessed that her health has allowed us some respite to adjust to our new life, our new world. We have not had multiple hospital admissions up to this point; many children have. My heart and all my respect goes out to the parents of these children. Our one admission for viral bronchiolitis (unrelated to CF) sent me spinning back down into the dark again.

As my dad often reminds me, it costs us more to take care of Jemima. It takes time and energy to administer daily medicines, inhalers and physiotherapy. It takes creativity to think up games that make these things fun or at least acceptable for a toddler. It takes energy to chase her around, bounce with her and have tickle fights to help her clear her chest. It takes patience to squeeze apple puree onto a spoon and sprinkle on Creon around 20 times a day. It takes time to make sure that the house is clean, to help protect her lungs from bacteria and dust. It costs us financially to buy the high calorie food that her body needs. It costs us emotionally to hold her for blood tests and cough swabs and to explain to her why she can’t gather armfuls of rotting leaves like the other children because it could make her poorly. It costs us socially to avoid people with coughs and colds. Chronic anxiety wears my patience with her and with Jonathan. As much as it costs us, it costs some parents much more to care for children with more severe or complex conditions. But as my dad also reminds me, the rewards are great. I am amazed every day by Jemima’s resilience. Despite having more to complain about than some, she is not a complainer. She’s physically tough. She’s emotionally mature. She does her treatments and takes her medicines (mostly) without complaint. She’s not afraid of medical professionals or of clinic visits. If she has a procedure she dislikes (cough swabs are currently the enemy) she cries but gets over it. She’s bright, optimistic and curious. She’s agile and physically fit. To her, life is full of people to play with and parks to play in.

This sends me back to my original question and one that I’m never far from: how do I know that God is good? People often say that God is good in response to good things that happen to us. But to me there is a big difference between saying that God is good in response to our circumstances and saying that God is good irrespective of what happens to us. The logic is fairly simple: if the goodness of God is a consequence of our circumstances we must assume, if circumstances go awry, that God is not good. If God’s goodness is validated by our circumstances, we must assume, if circumstances go awry, that he’s either displeased with us, that we’ve strayed from his ‘path of blessing’ or that our circumstances are beyond his control. None of these options are comforting. I know that God is good not because I feel that it’s true but because I believe it is so. Fossilised somewhere in my memory are the words of the Psalm we used to recite at church when I was a child:

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Psalm 100:5)

I wouldn’t say that this feels ‘comforting’ exactly but I do believe that it is true. The knowledge that God is good, irrespective of what happens in my little life, is both liberating and terrifying. In many ways I would prefer a clearer cut and more directly applicable system: that God would bless me and keep my daughter well and by this, show his goodness. But I know in my gut that the truth lies with Job, a man who suffered and who wrestled with these questions. Job asks:

Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? (Job 2:10)

Job did everything ‘right’ yet he lost everything he had. His friends told him to shape up or ship out but still he persevered in believing that he wasn’t being punished for his sins. And he was right.

Fast forward a few thousand years and the question remains: if God is good regardless of my circumstances, how can I know that he cares? I go back to the words of John:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. (1 John 3:16)

These are hard truths. They challenge the very basis of my faith. They are hard because, as my pastor says, suffering has become personal. But there is great relief in knowing that the fact that my daughter has a genetic disease is not a sign of God’s displeasure with me or with her. He is still good. He sent a saviour in Jesus, his precious only son. The fact that Jemima has been very healthy so far is an indescribable blessing but it’s not the reason that I know that he is good. It’s taken the words of the Bible and the words of some wise people who have suffered more than I have to bring me to this conclusion. It has taken its toll on me and has left a wound which – although I know it will never heal this side of the veil – contains deep and precious truth.

I believe that God is good because he says he is and because he sent Jesus to bring ultimate healing for the sufferings of the whole world. Genetic diseases should not be passed on through generations. Babies should not be stillborn. Children should not have to make bucket lists. Add to this a million other painful tragedies and injustices. God cares, he is good and in the end he will bring about restoration:

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

This is the end of the story and it’s one that I long for exponentially more than I did before I had Jemima. As for our story, I don’t know how it will play out. There are now medicines that aim at fixing the faulty gene that causes CF on a molecular level. There are also other tragedies, unrelated to CF, that we’re not guaranteed to be spared from. I want Jemima to live a long, full and joyful life. I want her to know Jesus. I want to protect her from suffering. The knowledge that I can’t protect her from life’s blows has been brought home sooner for us.

I am still angry. As the Hulk says in the film ‘Avengers Assemble’: “I’m always angry.” But I am also grateful. As much as it costs us to take care of Jemima, our victories are all the sweeter. Someone has likened living through a CF diagnosis to climbing a mountain of slick sh*t with a breathtaking view. I don’t take any of Jemima’s milestones for granted. Her first swim and her first stomp through the snow were deeply emotional and exhilarating for me. Every night that I go into her room and see her sleeping peacefully brings intense thankfulness that we’re not in hospital; that I can enjoy a glass of wine and sleep in my own bed instead of on the hospital floor amidst the bleeping of machines and slamming of doors. (Those of you who’ve been there will know all too well what I mean.) Every morning when she calls me into her room at 6am because “Mr Golden Sun is awake!” is tinged with relief and thankfulness. The breath in all of our lungs is a gift. Life is a gift in all of its fragility.

 

Happy Birthday to Us!

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Today is Mum in Zone One’s fourth Birthday. I guess it’s more of an anniversary between me and you. Some of you have been here since the beginning – thank you!

Thanks so much for reading and commenting and sharing, and I just hope this blog has helped you in some way. It’s helped me, as I’ve externally processed many things!

To celebrate this landmark I’ve set up a Reader Faviourites category, so if you’d like to let me know your favourite Mum in Zone One post please comment here or on Facebook and I’ll add it to the list.

Here’s to the next four 😊👏🏼 🍾  (Using a champagne emoji whilst drinking peppermint tea in my pyjamas!)

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 🙂 

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?

 

For Ezra’s Sake

Dear friends,

Thank you for reading this. I’ve been wanting to talk to you about something but wasn’t sure how. You could say that in writing this open letter I’ve taken the coward’s way out. But hopefully I can express myself better this way, which is good because this is really important.

 

My best friend at school was Rachel (a lot of you know that!). We’re still friends now but inconveniently she lives 214 miles away. But back then, at the Comp, we were inseparable. Her mum was a PE teacher, but not in our school. I expect if she’d worked in our school it would have been hard for Rachel. It’s pretty inevitable that school kids complain about most teachers at some point or another. Few teachers escape unscathed from the cutting remarks of a hormonal adolescent mob. (I know this because I once was a hormonal adolescent, and later I was a teacher.) But if Rachel’s lovely mum (whose name I can’t even mention here, out of respect) had worked in our school, I wouldn’t have insulted her. I wouldn’t have made up a silly name for her, or rolled my eyes when I knew it was time for PE with her, or made fun of her when, for example, she wore something that didn’t match (I’m speaking hypothetically. She always looks fab). I wouldn’t have done that, of course. Why? Well, at the very least out of loyalty for Rachel, and out of respect for her mum. As a friend, the least I can do is not slag off her mum.

Maybe you can’t relate to this. Maybe you don’t like your mum, or maybe your best friend hated her own mum. Maybe you all got together and tore your mums to shreds on a regular basis. So let me try another example. Here are some pictures of my firstborn son, Ezra*.

 

I love Ezra John Brooks. He is precious to me beyond measure. I love the bones of him. I could eat him. When I listen to him explain something to me, my heart skips a beat. I heard him tell his teacher yesterday, “I’ll bring in my slip for the trip tomorrow,” and my heart swelled with joy. I know, it’s pathetic! What’s happened to me? It’s called motherhood.

So try to imagine for me, if you can, that you and I are together one day, running for a train. Infuriatingly, we just miss the train, arriving just as it pulls away, and you yell down the platform, “EZRA JOHN!”
That would come as quite a shock to me.
Or if you stub your toe and you shout, “Ezra $*!#ing John Brooks that hurt!”
Or maybe you order a glass of white wine and it costs £8. “For Ezra’s sake!” you exclaim.

If we’re together, and I hear you use his name like that, how will I feel? In my head I might think, “Hey, don’t blame him!” But the reaction would first and foremost be emotional. It would be like a knife to the heart, wouldn’t it? Hearing you use my son’s name like a swear word would make me feel like you were dragging my gorgeous boy through the proverbial mud. His name is part of him; they can’t easily be separated.  Now, I know you’d never do that. It would be a pretty weird thing to do! But even if people had, for some terrible reason, started using Ezra’s name in that way, I’m sure you wouldn’t use it. Not in front of me. And actually, out of respect for me I don’t think you’d do it while I wasn’t there either. “That’s my friend’s son” you’d think. “I’ll use a different word.”

Perhaps you don’t have a child of your own. In which case, try to imagine how you’d feel if I used the name of your favourite niece or nephew, or your boyfriend, or your Dad, or anyone you love and cherish. If I used their name when I was angry, or in pain, or sick of waiting, you wouldn’t just object intellectually: you’d be hurt.

Now here’s the really awkward part. If you use The Lord Jesus’ name as a swear word, that’s how it makes me feel. It’s a knife to the heart. He is my most precious thing, my treasure. He is ‘my North, my South, my East and West, My working week and my Sunday rest.’** He is so precious to me that my identity is wrapped up in him. When you insult him, you insult me (and vice versa). You may think this is crazy or weird, but it’s still true. So I wonder if I could ask you, at least when you’re around me, and even if it’s just for my sake, could you please, please not do that? I’d be so grateful. Some of you don’t do it, so if you’re thinking “I’ve never done that!” then thank you, and I hope you found this worth reading anyway. But I’ve written this more for the people who do use Jesus’ name like that. I love you, and I love spending time with you. I’d also really be so pleased if you could take this on board. Here are some words from one song which helps to put across how I feel about Jesus’ name:

What a wonderful Name it is
Nothing compares to this
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

You have no rival, you have no equal
Now and forever, our God reigns
Yours is the kingdom, yours is the glory
Yours is the Name, above all names

What a powerful Name it is
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King.
(Hillsong, What a Beautiful Name)

Lots of love,

Me.

P.S. This isn’t the best reason not to misuse God’s Name, but it’s a valid one.

*I  picked one of my children for the sake of this article, but it could have been any.
**WH Auden, Twelve Songs (IX).

Jesus Makes a Way In – Easter Teaching

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A while ago I recommended a book, The Garden, The Curtain & The Cross – you can read about it here.  I’m going to use it this year to teach my children about Easter.  In case you might find it helpful, here is what I plan to do.  It’s not yet tried and tested, but I’ll let you know how it goes!  I do hope it’s helpful.  Again, I really recommend the book – much better than a load more chocolate for Easter – but if you don’t want to buy it I’m sure you could find corresponding stories in children’s Bibles if you wanted to.

Day 1: The Garden (Part 1)
Read p. 1-6 (up to “It was wonderful to live with God.”)
Main point:The Best thing about being in the garden was being with God, face to face.

Possible questions:
What can we see in the garden?
Who made all of these things? (older children – What is God like (since he made everything)? – good, amazing, clever, kind, beautiful.)
Who is in charge of all these things?
What was it like for Adam and Eve living in the garden?
What was the best thing about being in the garden?

Pray – praise God for making everything. Could look at Psalm 8 or 19

Songs: Who made the twinkling stars?
My God is so Big.

Craft ideas: Creation cookies (from Bake Through hte Bible – make biscuits shaped like different things God created and talk about the diversity of creation.)
Any baking/craft – talk about how we have made something so it belongs to us. Then share it with someone we love.

Day 2: The Garden (Part 2)
Read p. 1-10 (Up to ‘God said, Because of your sin, you can’t come in.’)
Main Point: The worst thing about sin is that it means we can’t be with God.

Possible questions:
What was it like living in the garden with God?
What terrible thing did Adam and Eve do? They listened to the snake (this isn’t written in the book but I think it’s what my children will say.)
Why did they do it? They didn’t want God to be in charge.
When we decide we don’t want God to be in charge, what does God call that? Sin.
What happened to Adam and Eve next?
What was life like for people outside of God’s garden?

Pray – say sorry to God that we sin, we don’t treat him as the boss, and so we don’t deserve to be with him. (Thank him that we can pray to him because Jesus has rescued us from our sin.)

Song: “God is a holy God” by Emu.

Craft ideas:
Maybe a colouring page like page 9, with “KEEP OUT – Because of your sin you can’t come in” written on it? (Will have to recruit husband or creative friend for this task!)
Or maybe make snakes out of paper plates – write on them “Shove off God, I’m in charge, No to your rules.” (Although this is less linked to the theme of the book)

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Day 3: The Curtain
Read p. 1-14 (Up to ‘It is wonderful to live with him, but because of your sin, you can’t come in.’)
Main Point: God comes to live with his people, but if they come face to face with God, they will die

Possible questions:
What’s wonderful about the temple?
What is behind the curtain?
Why is the curtain there? (older children – It’s God’s kindness to put the curtain there so that the people don’t get destroyed by his holiness.)
What pictures are on the temple curtain? (Reminds us of the Keep Out sign on page 9 that kept Adam and Eve out of Eden)

Pray: Thank God that even though we sin, he still wants to be with his people.

Song: “God is a holy God” by Emu.

Craft idea– make a big curtain out of craft paper/old wallpaper, with pictures of angels on it. (I’ll be drawing ours first and getting them to colour/paint it.)

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Day 4: The Cross
Read pages 1-24 (Up to ‘Because Jesus dies, we can go in!’)
Main Point: By taking our sin on the cross, Jesus has made a way for us to be face to face with God again.

Possible questions:
The Son had always been face to face with God in heaven, but he came to earth where things are sometimes sad and sometimes bad. Did Jesus ever sin?
Why did God’s son, Jesus, plan to die on the cross? (He took our sin)
And when Jesus took our sin from us on the cross, what happened to the curtain, God’s big Keep Out sign in the temple? (Tear the paper curtain we made. Maybe have a surprise treat on the other side?)

Pray: Thank God for sending Jesus to die even though he had never sinned, so that we can be face to face with God because our sin has been taken away from us.

Song: “God is a holy God” by Emu.

Craft idea: Although not a craft, the tearing of the “curtain” could substitute a craft. Or you could get them to think of things they do wrong/don’t do right and write them onto a cross, and then shred them/throw them in the bin to explain that Jesus took our sin from us on the cross. (NB! Please don’t let your children use a shredder without strict supervision! Maybe they could just watch you shred?)

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Day 5: The New Garden
Read the whole book.
Main Point: Because the curtain tore in two when Jesus died for our sin, we can be with God face to face. We can know him now and will be with him forever in the new garden city.

Possible questions:
After Jesus died, what happened to him?
Where does Jesus live now?
Who has Jesus invited to come and live with him in God’s wonderful place?
How has God’s ‘Keep Out’ sign been taken away?
What will be the best thing about living in God’s new heaven and new earth? (Being with God forever.)

Pray: Thank God for all the things we’ve learnt. Thank God that if we trust in Jesus we can be with him forever in the new heaven and new earth, where there will be nothing bad, and no one sad. Ask God to help us keep going, trusting him, until we get there.

Songs:
“Easter Friday” by Emu.
“Home” by City Alight (my children love this one.)
“God is a holy God” – to recap on the week.

Craft: Make an Easter card with some words from the book:

We can live with God for ever!
There will be nothing bad, and no one sad.
It will be wonderful to live with him,
And it’s all because of Jesus.

or a similar Bible verse, E.g. from Rev 21.3:

“Look! God now makes his home with the people.
And God himself will be with them and be their God.”

 

 

You heard it here first! (ish)

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Some News from Chez Brooks. Written early August 2015.

We made a decision. We’d like to have another. And yes, I do mean another b.a.b.y.

But why? Am I one of those ‘baby’ people, who loves babies? That would be an emphatic “no.” While I love my children dearly and am truly grateful for them, I don’t enjoy being pregnant, giving birth(!), breastfeeding or waking through the night. And to be honest, I don’t even enjoy holding babies that much. They don’t do much, do they? I love the babies I know, but not because they’re babies. (This is, in many ways, a good thing. Babies don’t stay babies!)

I can’t explain it, but after much careful consideration we agreed that we would like four children, even though they will one day (God willing) become four teenagers, and we only have one teeny tiny bathroom (it’s almost double the width of the bath).

And it’s happened! Brooks baby number four is on his/her merry way. Still microscopic for now, but a person all the same. We haven’t told anyone yet, so do keep it to yourself. To be honest, I’m a bit nervous about sharing this joyous news with my largely unsuspecting friends and family.

When you’re pregnant with your first, people are so happy for you: how exciting! You’re going to be great parents! Praise God! Let’s pray right now about that!

The second baby is less of a surprise, usually, unless it’s eye-wateringly soon after the first, but people can see that you want a ‘proper family’ (I object to this term but people do say it), or that you want to ‘get it all out of the way at once’ (objection again!), or that you just want a little playmate for Jonny (let’s hope Jonny is on board).

In our culture, two children is normal. So when you announce number three is in the pipeline, as it were, people laugh a bit and say things like, ‘Wow, you’re going to need a bigger car.’ Which is true. (Actually for us it was more, ‘You’re going to need a car.’) People with three children in the UK are perceived as having a big family. The washing, the bunk beds, the car seats. Wow. But in my experience, people admire, or at least respect you.

But four children? Are you insane? You can’t have four children in a normal car. You will probably need to move. Goodness me, how will you even walk down the street? You can never go to a supermarket again. Wow, you must LOVE babies.

This is why, since having three children, people have often said to me, ‘I bet you’re finished now, aren’t you!’ or words to that effect. I always thought family planning was quite a private matter, but evidently I’m mistaken. I don’t mind a close friend asking gently if I’d like to have more children, but someone I’m not close to announcing, in front of my children, that I won’t be having any more, is just inappropriate. Being English, I generally smile politely and change the subject, as I wouldn’t want to offend them by telling them it’s none of their flaming business.

A mother-of-two once said to me with absolute conviction that it was totally unfair to have more than two children, because you wouldn’t give them enough attention. But this opinion is so culturally bound. By the end of the 20th Century, women in London were having on average half the number of babies compared to those at the start of the century. In many cultures – and, by the way, in God’s word! – children are seen as a huge blessing and wealth. Your children are your inheritance, as they’ll look after you when you’re old. (As someone said to me last week, in some parts of the world we’d just be getting started.) But now that we have (free) birth control in the UK, people with lots of children can be seen as a drain on society and a nuisance. Hasn’t she heard of the Pill? (or, ‘tie a knot in it’ as I heard someone recently put it.)

When I was in hospital with my first newborn the post-natal ward was, to use the medical term, rammed. I mentioned this to a nurse at one point, who said, ‘It’s the Muslims. They’ve got an agenda, to populate the world.’ I was a bit too drugged up and sleep-deprived to have the suitable reaction (reporting her to some Body or other), so I just mumbled something in defence of Muslims and tried to change the subject. But this is just another example of how large families are viewed. They’re unruly; a threat to the status quo.

So now, instead of phoning round my friends and family with the happy news of a baby on the way, I’m wondering how to break it to everyone. Family holidays with relatives are going to be even more chaotic, with even less chance of a good nights’ sleep. I’ll be less available to other people as my family’s needs grow. My church family will need to help me even more! And will I ever go back into teaching, for crying out loud?

Well, if motherhood has taught me anything (besides the exact words to many a Julia Donaldson chronicle), it’s to care less and less what other people (especially strangers) think of me. Since getting pregnant the first time, I’ve been judged so much that I now just assume that people are horrified by whatever it is I’m doing. Even with three children who are clearly alive and rather stable, people still assume I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing: your child doesn’t look safe on that wall/is far too hot/has cold hands/hasn’t had her hair brushed (that I’ll give them)/is being ignored (yes, that’s because he’s screaming for Haribo). Or even if you’re not doing anything wrong, your child is probably just being a nuisance by his/her very existence. So I’m learning the healthy lesson of not-being-self-conscious. Or something more succinct. I’ll keep praying, asking for advice from wise people, and doing what I think is obedient. The Lord knows I’m making (sometimes slow/sometimes moderate) progress!

So for now, I’m happy to keep it just between Mike and myself, because we’re really chuffed to bits about this little tike. And if the news is met with mixed responses, hopefully I can thank the Lord that he’s making me less and less affected by the judgments of others. Although with pregnancy hormones thrown into the mix, that may work better in theory than practice.

Please feel welcome to comment below – I’d love to read your thoughts!

If you are wondering whether or not to have another baby, you may find this article useful.  (I only found it today, but would have found it useful six months ago!)

Reading this a couple of months on, I’d just like to add three comments of my own!

  1. The people we’ve told about the baby have actually been very supportive, so I’m really thankful for friends who genuinely care about us and take delight in our little family. Praise God!
  2. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of feeling like children are a nuisance, or that “enough’s enough.” If this post seems judgmental, sorry, as the finger should definitely be pointed at me, too.
  3. I think pregnancy hormones had a role to play in my anxiety about this, too! Surprise, surprise.

Enjoy yourself (Just not in the same way you used to before)!

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I used to look forward to, and enjoy, weekends away with church. Now I brace myself for them, and often feel I’m the worst version of ‘me’ when I’m there. Sad, I know. But I believe that through prayer and practical wisdom this, the “time away with church family, with a family,” can be conquered!

I’m going away today, so I thought I’d offer some tips on how to get through, I mean enjoy, your time away (it’s more fun than packing). I’m in no way the expert, but I thought I’d share what I’ve come up with thus far – you’ll see I’m learning from my mistakes.

Things NOT to expect:

Sleep – Time and again I make the mistake of arriving on a conference/camp/ weekend away already tired, and hoping for some rest. Go on, point and laugh, I deserve it. You won’t get much sleep. Things will prevent you from sleeping: probably your children. But while you can do everything in your power to encourage your children to have a good night’s sleep (blackouts, familiar bedding, nightlight etc.), there are always things you can’t control. Even if your children sleep wonderfully, you are still likely to be woken up by something else, e.g. someone else’s child; a fire alarm; a 5am delivery van; a 3am Pentecostal prayer gathering (this has been my experience, anyway).

Catching up with good friends – this is unlikely, because you will be busy with your brood and also there may be other people who need you more. You don’t want to end up resenting your children or anyone else who gets in the way of your nice long chat with so-and-so. Maybe think of this as an opportunity to arrange to meet up with that friend in the next couple of weeks! Then, if you do end up having a good chat: bonus!

Taking part in everything that’s going on – it might be the teaching you look forward to, or the social aspect, or praying together. But it’s likely you’ll miss out on something you’d really like to have been at. You might get trapped in your room with a clingy baby and no phone signal to beckon help, while everyone else is having a whale of a time doing “organised fun.” You might miss all of the talks because your 3-year-old is terrified of the unfamiliar surroundings, or you might have to take someone to A&E. Hopefully none of these will happen, but I’m just saying it’s good to be emotionally prepared to miss out.

Things to DO:

Be thankful. Sorry everything above is so negative. I think that if we “manage our expectations” (fancy phrase) then we’re more likely to be thankful for any fun/teaching/sleeping/encouragements that we do receive. I need to remember to be thankful, because I just won’t be otherwise. I’m like that, me.

Forget yourself. I find that at these intense, emotionally draining times I get too focused on my own “problems” (e.g. lack of sleep/missed the seminar), which is just a recipe for disaster. If I try to focus on making sure other people are OK, I’ll actually start to forget what I was so narked off about in the first place. Get over yourself, Catherine (or, you know, something less harsh).

Research – if you haven’t been to the venue before, try to find out what you need to take with you from someone who has been or from the venue itself. You don’t want to arrive and realise you were meant to bring bedding. Almost equally you don’t want to stuff five duvets into your boot (trunk) and then discover you didn’t need them. Especially if you don’t have a driveway, so loading the car is tricky, and you bought the duvets especially. Just saying.

I’ve now noticed that (maybe apart from the final one) these are quite good tips for life in general. Maybe that’s because time away with church is really just a more intense version of normal life. And I need to remember, too, what an AMAZING privilege it is to have the resources, the community, and the freedom to be able to do this. Would my North Korean sister be grumbling about missing the Saturday night karaoke if she were here? No, I’m pretty sure she’d think she’d died and gone to heaven.

Have a good weekend, folks!

Two Churches

Two churches

There are two churches.

Church #1 is a diverse group of people: a mixture of failures, misfits and social outcasts.   There are addicts, former addicts, the otherwise mentally ill and the holistically needy. It’s a place of confusion, of grief, and mess. Everywhere you look there are scars – some self-inflicted, some the result of family background, ill-chosen relationships or just random bad luck. This is a church of the insecure, slow to learn, forgetful and (I’ll say it again), needy. It’s a place where people with very little in common get together and participate in what many wouldn’t even recognise as a church service.

Care to join me?

Or, alternatively (phew), can I suggest Church # 2?

Church #2 is my favourite place in the whole world. Wherever they are, that’s where I want to be. I look around me and I see my family, all filled with joy because they know their God loves them.   They’re not all like me, in fact none of them are much like me at all. Some are rich; others poor; there’s the old and the young; there’s the logical thinkers and the creative artists and everything in between. But we are united by our Lord Jesus, so being from different continents and classes makes little difference to us. They love me and they show it. When I ask for a favour we all know it’s not really a favour, because when family is family you just share each other’s stuff. We are real. We laugh together; we cry together. We’ve got history, and we’ve got a future. Our future will go on and on forever. You should meet them, seriously. You’d feel so welcome there.

So… are you coming?

I wonder which church you recognise. I wonder which church you want to be a part of.

Well of course, I’m a part of both. They’re both my church. One overlays the other. We are broken, we’ve been fixed and we’re being fixed. And one day, wow will we be gloriously fixed. We’re so needy, and yet all of our needs are being satisfied by one beautiful Saviour. And we couldn’t be rescued if we weren’t being honest about needing it.   As Jesus said ‘It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ Mark 2:17. So we keep gathering and learning and praying and praising and thanking and listening and weeping and repenting and sharing the burdens and inviting others to come and do the same.

And I suppose my little family unit of five (the hubby; the kids) is a mini version of that big church family. I don’t hope for brokenness or failure or mess, but when it comes I need to know that we’re not actually meant to have it all figured out yet. We are the sick, the sinners, the tax collectors. And the Lord is changing us day by day.

When [Christ] shall come with trumpet sound
Oh may [we] then in him be found
In Him, [our] righteousness, alone
Faultless, stand before the throne.

(My Hope is Built on Nothing Less, Edward Mote)

Dear New Mum

day 1

Here is a letter to my lovely friend Charlie, who is about to give birth any day now. It’s a bit honest, but I hope you like it. It seems wonderfully appropriate, one year on from writing about my own struggles with my first newborn (Push, Push, Glide), to post this here.

Dear Charlie,

I’m sitting in a café (had free coffee voucher – bargain!) and a lady next to me has a teeeeeeny tiny baby! He is very cute and drunk on milk. Everyone is gazing at him. Mum is probably exhausted and wondering when the baby will next need feeding. I’ve found that there’s a big old difference between actual motherhood, and motherhood from the outside looking in.

You’re about to have your first baby! You know that already. I’d love to give you loads of advice and tips. I’m sure all of your mum-friends will want to help and give you their opinion on what’s going on. My first tip would be to ask for advice if and when you need it, but if you haven’t asked perhaps put on some sort of mental filter! And then even when you’ve asked, don’t feel you have to do what people tell you. One thing I’ve learnt from reading many, many books about parenting and having many more conversations about parenting, is that babies are all different. And mums are different, as you’ll know. You’re unique, as is your family, so not everything that works for others will work for you.

You’re about to enter a world of contradictions. The baby is completely weak and vulnerable – frighteningly so – and yet has the power to make you giddy with joy one minute, and crushingly disappointed the next. Things you know are small and relatively insignificant become paralysingly huge: Why hasn’t he burped yet? How long has she been asleep? How many clean vests will I need to take with me? What does that face mean? When should his teeth come through? Which brand of bottle/travel cot/car seat (and how do we assemble any of these things)?

Conversations with your husband undergo a complete transformation. Things I thought I’d never hear Mike say, and then did:
‘We need to assign a cupboard in the kitchen just for the bottles and sterilising equipment.’
‘The ideal situation would be this: Wherever you are in the flat, you can turn around and find a clean muslin.’
And then there was the song he made up encouraging a constipated Miriam to do a poo. (It was to the tune of the South African national anthem.)

Life will change. You know what’s about to hit you, but actually you won’t know what’s hit you.

How is any of this useful? Well, I was pondering these things and wondering what the best advice for you would be, and here is what I came up with (except I didn’t come up with it at all):

One of [the Pharisees], an expert in the law, tested him with this question:
Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’ (Matt 22)

When you can’t remember what day it is, who just visited you or when you last had a shower (top tip: do have a shower!), hopefully you’ll be able to remember these two commandments.

When things seem huge, especially in the middle of the night (when sleep is short and truth is needed*), it’s vital to remember the wonderful truth that the Lord is God. The world revolves around him, not me or my baby. When we’ve lost all perspective, let’s remind ourselves what we know to be true.

I remember Mike finding me in a heap on the floor at the end of the day because acid-reflux Ezra had cried for too long. At that moment, it was hard to remember that God is big. It was hard to believe that one day I wouldn’t be sad about that anymore. It sounds silly now! But emotions are powerful. So when you’re finding it hard to look beyond you and your baby, try dwelling on the Lord your God, and worshipping him (Psalm 27: 4 is good. And stick a worship CD on!).

So onto that second commandment. You may find that your baby teaches you how to love someone else as yourself. It’s certainly true that motherhood is a great lesson in sacrificial love. What a blessing. But I also want to encourage you to keep loving others, especially as your baby’s demands seem overwhelming. In Babywise one of the many parenting books I’ve read, I remember it saying that when we become mothers we don’t stop being wives/daughters/sisters/friends. That’s not the advice you’ll hear everywhere, and that’s why it’s so important to hear.

I don’t mean to pressure you – “Don’t you know that a 3 day old baby doesn’t get you out of the church baking rota?” No I don’t mean that. But by God’s grace you’ll be able to show concern for others and pray for them, check how they’re doing and even offer to help them. And in doing this, you also will be blessed. Sharing joys and sorrows with your friends and family will help you to see your own issues with a bit more perspective. (I recently said to a friend who’d been in a horrific car accident, ‘Will you pray for me? You’re not the only one with problems!’ I truly am a wonderful friend to have around! Do you miss me?)

And we need grace, grace, grace:

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. Romans 3:20-21

Every day of being a parent, you will be conscious of your sin and your need of a saviour – at least I hope so. And in Christ, you have the righteousness of God. So keep asking for his help – he’s listening! Don’t expect to know what you’re doing, or be any good at it! And that’s all good. Your child needs to see that Mum and Dad need Jesus.

So in summary, it’s going to be hard, remember the world doesn’t revolve around you, and remember you’re absolutely hopeless without the grace of God! There, I intended to encourage you and I feel my work here is done!

Heaps of love,

Cat. X

*That was a quote from my lovely friend Katy, who sent me worship CDs to listen to during the night feeds with Ezra. Amazing. Now I’ve told you that, I suppose I’ll have to send you some! 🙂

p.s. Love you, I think you’re going to do a great job!  (Probably should have led with that.)