Sing!

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Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;

    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
    play skilfully, and shout for joy.

For the word of the Lord is right and true;
    he is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love. Psalm 33:1-5

When did you last belt out a song to the Lord?

In God’s word the people of God are commanded over and over again to sing praises to our God.  Why? Does he need it? Of course not. We need it.

But since your church stopped gathering, have you still been singing?

It’s easy for me to say. I grew up with a Dad who was forever singing. Singing was just the usual background noise. I only really realised this when I got to university and met Andy, who was to become a brother to me in those years. Someone said to me once, “Have you noticed that Andy’s always singing?” I said, “No, like when?” She said, “Well he’s singing right now.” No, I hadn’t noticed, because I was used to it.

Then I married Mike, who comes from a household of singers (i.e. people who sing) and who was to become a worship leader. So we are a family who will put on worship music and sing along any day of the week. On a Sunday morning in Lockdown we will stand in our living room together and sing our hearts out. The Oompa Loompas who live next door watch us through the window as though we’re mad.

Sing to God, sing in praise of his name,
    extol him who rides on the clouds[b];
    rejoice before him – his name is the Lord. Psalm 68:4

But even with all this habitual singing, I’ve also been commanding myself to sing.  Because even though we’ll sing for no good reason, actually as Christians we always have good reasons to sing. Every day we have a God who is worthy of praise. Every day our hearts are tempted to grow cold to this God. Every day the world, the flesh and Satan are trying to get us to worship something else.

So when you’re fed up, I mean really fed up of the same parks, the same bike rides, the same four walls, the same arguments about school work and the same uncertainty about when you will ever see your relatives again, sing. I will say it again, sing!

Sing the gospel. Sing of your God. Sing of all his mighty works. Sing of all he’s done for you. Sing to yourself. Sing to your children. Sing to your God. Sing with the angels in heaven. If Paul and Silas could sing in prison, then I can sing in Lockdown.

And it’s never been easier to get hold of worship music to sing along to. Remember when we had to buy CD’s? We can thank God for providing Youtube, Spotify and all those other ones young people use.

If you’re lacking strength for today, sing. If you’re lacking hope for tomorrow, sing. It’s so good for you. Even the world is now realising how good it is to sing. Schools who no longer sing hymns are having singing assemblies where they sing rousing secular hymns from Hollywood blockbusters. (I mentioned this here, too.) But praise the Lord! He’s put a better song in our mouths.

Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people;
    praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favour lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning. Psalm 30:3-5

 

I’ll Huff and I’ll Puff

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Last term my son learnt the following story in RE at school, and had to perform it in an assembly:

24 “So then, everyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like a wise man. He builds his house on the rock. 25 The rain comes down. The water rises. The winds blow and beat against that house. But it does not fall. It is built on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man. He builds his house on sand. 27 The rain comes down. The water rises. The winds blow and beat against that house. And it falls with a loud crash.”

My son’s line was something like, “So everyone who makes wise choices and does the right thing is a wise builder.” I love my children’s school – I almost couldn’t love it more. But do you see what they did there? They took Jesus’ very clear statement, “everyone who hears my words and puts them into practice” and changed it to the ambiguous and vague, “everyone who makes wise choices and does the right thing.” This is less offensive to a mixed audience.

When a storm comes – or a virus that empties the streets and fills up all the hospitals – we find out if we’ve been a wise of a foolish builder. I’m a bit like one of the three little pigs, and the wolf is here – but which pig am I? Did I use straw, sticks or bricks? Will my house fall down?

Going back to Jesus’ parable, I wonder if you feel that your foundations have been shaken. What are you building your life upon? Whose words are you putting into practice? Where does your security lie?

There all kinds of things we can put out trust in. Things we think will keep us safe and secure and happy:

I can trust in the security and freedom that money can offer.

I can trust in my relationships with family or friends to keep me safe and happy.

I can trust in my children’s education to give them everything they could hope for.

I can trust in scientific advances and modern medicine to give me a long and happy life.

I can trust in my good planning – my next holiday, my next house-move, my new kitchen, to give me hope and a future. These things can give me satisfaction as I daydream about them and count down the days.

But every once in a while, a storm comes. This might be the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job. It might be a rejection letter or an ash cloud or an image, a growing blemish on a scan. And these things can make us wonder whether we’ve been building our house on sand. When the unexpected storm comes, does my house come crashing down?

These storms, though terrifying, can be an incredible mercy from God if they show us that all this time we’ve been building on sand. Because there’s still time to rebuild.

We’re living in the kind of storm that comes along less than once in a generation. It’s affecting everyone. The rain is coming down and the water is rising. The wind is blowing and beating against our houses.

Our investments have crashed and we might lose our jobs or take pay cuts. I can’t see my friends and family in ‘real life’ for weeks, probably months. The schools have closed and the exams are cancelled. And even the best medicine can’t save everyone from this virus. These things we were depending upon have turned out to be not so certain after all.

I don’t know if you believe in God, and if so whether you feel angry with him about all of this. But while I know this is devastating for many of us, can I suggest to you that God might be trying to show you something? Perhaps it’s time to build your house on something – or someone – that can withstand any storm.

Jesus can take us through the worst storm imaginable, because he went through worse for you and for me, and came out safely on the other side. He can take us through death and bring us out of it with a new body, in paradise.

When we all come out of hiding, will we be changed? This Easter is surely a good time to hear Jesus out. Let’s find out what his words are and see if we think it’s time to put them into practice.

If you don’t have a church or your church isn’t streaming services, can I recommend my brother’s Easter Sunday service to you? He knows this is hard, he’s been through storms himself, and he’d love to tell you about the hope that Jesus offers this Easter. You can find it here at 11am on Sunday, or catch up afterwards if you’ve got plans then(!) If you click on the link now there’s a friendly little message from him waiting for you.

The rain is coming down and the water is rising. The wind is blowing and beating against our houses. But there is hope this Easter.

Freedom

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:13-15.

We’ve been using the Lent Prayer Tree prayer guide from Hope and Ginger. The other day it suggested we prayed for “people you find challenging.” Of course we all prayed for each other! Who sees the worst side of me? Who gets the least patient version of me? My poor, dear family. And now we’ve been sentenced to at least 12 weeks of family confinement. I mentioned I’m reading A Gentleman in Moscow – that’s about a man who’s living under house arrest. Little did I know when I began reading it how apt it would be. But he’s in a massive hotel and he has more than 5 people to talk to! Who knew I’d end up envying him, just a little bit? (I’m kidding… of course…)

I’m not complaining about my family. But I give them plenty of reasons to complain about me. The truth is, though, that it is challenging spending so much time with other sinners. This morning I read the children the passage above from Galatians. We talked about how we can spend the day (metaphorically?) biting chunks off each other, but if in the end we’ll all be “consumed.” There’ll be nothing left of us! Or we can choose to obey God and love each other as we love ourselves. So we prayed that the Lord would change our hearts and help us to do that instead.

I think when we read commands about loving and serving other people and showing generosity and grace, it’s easy to think about people “out there.” Especially now, when many people out there are genuinely in need of help. And helping people is the right thing to do, of course, but I think I often neglect to see that there are people right under my nose who need love, generosity and grace. And if they’re the only people I’m going to see today (other than on a screen), then this seems the perfect opportunity to start praying for supernatural love for them.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

I just wanted to add as a bit of a disclaimer: when I tell you about how things are going here I do spare you many messy details. The reason for this is that it wouldn’t be fair on my children to broadcast their struggles. I’m usually happy to share my own failings, but that’s my choice. It’s also not very encouraging to hear about someone else’s ugliness. But I just want you to know that when I share with you a craft or an activity that’s worked well, it may not have been all happiness and harmony along the way. We, like you, are works very much in progress. Some days go beautifully; some evenings require a brisk and fervent prayer walk. Most days are a bit of both.

Here are some things we’ve tried:

We’ve now got a “Shake Up 2” playlist which is: “Who’s the King of the Jungle?” Colin Buchanan, “Tell it to Jesus” (very apt) by Randall Goodgame and “Dr Jesus” by Awesome Cutlery. All available on YouTube with lyrics.

 

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I’ve started reading Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo with the older three and we’re going to do crafts and things along the way. If you’ve got a good children’s book that you enjoy, this is a great way to inspire activities because you can use the text as a springboard for all sorts of crafts/drama/writing. So far this has included making paper boats and painting some Japanese numbers – we did that thing with wax crayons and watercolours, which turned out nicely! I feel like I did that a lot in primary school. And you probably know this but twinkl.co.uk is a great place for resources and ideas.

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I just want to give a little shout-out to Post-It notes. Give a child a Post-It note to write something on, and he’s pretty chuffed. Plus it’s a way of sticking things to the wall which (I hope) doesn’t do any damage. I’ve started using them to plan out the day – so we all have some idea of what’s going on – and today I used some to remind me to help my daughter learn these sounds:

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Childsplay

imageAt that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:1-4.

My first week at home has predictably not gone to plan. Sometimes I’ve felt that we’ve got nothing at all to do and other times we’ve felt strangely time-pressured and stressed. I can see that I’m very gradually going to learn what’s realistic and useful; meanwhile there’ll be a lot of trial and error.

As I reflect on how things have gone from the children’s point of view, I’m reminded of Jesus’ words that I need to become like a little child. They’ve certainly enjoyed themselves more than I have. So what can we learn from our children about how to live in Coronatimes?

Take things one day at a time
Younger children are especially good at this.  My 10-year-old is likely to have some worries about the days ahead, but my 3 year old has very little concept of the days ahead. She’s counting the sleeps till her birthday but I can see that this abstract concept is mere head knowledge to her. She doesn’t truly understand what “9 days’ time” means.
When I try to imagine how we’ll be after four, six or twelve weeks of this, I’m tempted to feel a dangerous cocktail of dread, panic and frustration. But I don’t need to imagine that, nor should I try to do so. Instead, I should ask God for my daily bread and not borrow trouble from tomorrow. “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Isn’t that the truth! I don’t need strength for tomorrow – only for today.  And I can trust, like my children, that my Father will provide for me tomorrow, just as he has done for me today.
Incidentally, this is one big reason why we shouldn’t be panic buying. We can be generous and we don’t need to hoard because our Father provides for us.

Trust
This is linked to the one above. My children trust my words. They’re learning that plans don’t always work out, but they still believe and trust what people in authority tell them. This makes them vulnerable but it also means they don’t worry.
We all believe in things, so let’s choose to believe and trust in the promises of God, rather than filling our heads with speculations and tabloid hyperbole. Children take things at face value rather than trying to find loopholes or negatives.  Let’s take God at his word. Here’s one promise to hold onto:
“…fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10.

Try to enjoy yourself
I’m reading A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and yesterday I read this line:
“Just remember that unlike adults, children want to be happy. So they still have the ability to take the greatest pleasure in the simplest of things.”
I don’t know how much you agree with what the character is saying here. I think that most adults want to be happy too, but so often our minds are drawn to heavier thoughts or deep anxieties. When was the last time you allowed yourself to become absorbed in a simple, enjoyable task?
I know we’re busy. But maybe I’d be more of a blessing if I took my day one hour at a time, giving thanks in all circumstances and taking pleasure in simple gifts, rather than always having my mind on what’s happening next and how we’re all going to blooming-well cope.
So let’s all be like kids this week. If you’ll excuse me, I’m expected at Nerf practice.

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Tips

In case you need ideas, here are three things which have worked well for us:
1. We’ve started looking at Bible stories that involve mountains. I hope to do eight altogether. First we did Noah and a few days later we did Abraham and Isaac. The older three highlighted key parts of the story and then created storyboards. They enjoyed this – who doesn’t love a highlighter? My younger child stuck popcorn onto a picture of a ram. By the way, I hope you know that any Bible times you do with your children are improving their literacy skills. Comprehension, identifying key points and drawing connections with other stories (such as Jesus), are all vital English skills. Bonus!
2. We get a subscription to a science magazine called Whizz, Pop, Bang. My 8 year old son loves reading it and each issue includes experiments which require “equipment” which you should already have in your home. They also email you the equipment list about a week in advance so you’re pre-warned!
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3. We’ve done a lot of baking already. Baking helps young children with maths and you can talk to them about the science of it as well. Following instructions in the correct order is an important skill. Plus baking is a comforting activity for little ones because it’s “normal” and you hopefully get to eat something yummy at the end.

Oh boy

3E4B3299-6BEB-483C-8307-690C7B6D2ED2I hope you’re all doing OK. I’ve been ill in bed for two days so today my husband took the day off working-from-home in order to do the lion’s share of the homeschooling.

The shake up went very well. It’s a New New Day by Awesome Cutlery is a particularly poignant song to start the day with when you’re feeling a bit like life has been put on hold:

It’s a new new day to sing your praise
It’s a new new day to walk in your ways
It’s a new new day to make you known
It’s a new new day to see your Kingdom grow

It’s good to start the day asking God what he wants to teach us and how he wants to use us today! The children were reluctant to do the shake up but then thoroughly enjoyed themselves. One thing you learn as a teacher is to ignore whinges and plough on!

After Maths and English we enjoyed watching Michael J Tinker on Facebook live.  God bless him for his enthusiasm – it’s really appreciated! I’m sure the children feel reassured. And excellent to be reminded that the Coronavirus cannot separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

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A French lesson with Michael J Tinker

We did a bit of Geography which, truth be told, was just completing some map jigsaws.

After lunch and running around I’d planned a session looking at Genesis 6-8. This was difficult. It’s a spiritual battle, folks! Let’s remember that – and pray.

By 3.15 we were flagging. This is when we put a film on and I began wondering how we’re going to manage for 12 weeks. Any ideas from you are most welcome!

Tomorrow I think we’re going to try to watch a history lesson online. However I am reluctant to do too many online things. You know me, I just don’t really like technology.  I’m hoping that once the children settle into the routine they’ll be better at doing things independently – like going away and reading or playing a game together. (Please don’t laugh!)

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Opting for some peace and quiet outside

It occurred to me today that when we’re struggling it’s easy to feel discontent and to start envying other people’s situations/gardens/houses/families/health. Let’s guard against that. The best remedy is gratitude, in my experience. I’m thankful that my children have someone to play with, a home full of books, games, jigsaws and toys and an outside space. We also have a wonderful church family who keep delivering supplies to us.

The only remotely amusing anecdote I can think of for today is that my son’s first wobbly tooth almost fell out – but didn’t. I was alerted to this horrific fact when I heard my poor husband utter the words, “Great, your mouth’s full of blood but can you please get out of the kitchen?”

So how did your day go? Any tips? Don’t be shy!

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6.34

Day One in the Big Brooks House

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The thrill of a care package

I expected to be writing this blog post on Monday evening but homeschooling started early for the Brookses. My son developed a dry cough last night so we decided it would be best to keep them off school and quarantine ourselves. This was a really sad start to the day as we had to break the news to our daughter who was very upset to miss the last day of school.

It’s all a bit daunting. If you feel overwhelmed by social media input at this time, you’re not alone! I hope and pray that my blog will simply encourage you and share ideas – and hopefully give you a chance to laugh (kindly) at my misfortune at times.

I think as a mum I feel really responsible for holding it together and keeping my children happy. This is quite a burden to bear so I was delighted to be reminded of something when reading Galatians: So also Abraham ‘believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’ (Chapter 3 v 6). It reminds me of Romans 1.17 which I’ve written about here. (There is overlap between the pressure of making Christmas special and making quarantine special, for sure!)  The bottom line is this: we’re righteous by faith, not by works. So we don’t need to be amazing. Which is great news for me because I’m not.

One complication of starting to homeschool early is that I had Bible study (via the Zoom app) at 10am so of course we had to resort to putting a film on for the kids. Sigh. We lasted about 70 minutes before resorting to screen time! But such is real life.

I find it helpful to have a rough plan of timings but we didn’t stick to it so I’ll just let you know what we did today (in case it’s helpful):

Film: Two by Two. No idea how good it is.  A thoroughly inaccurate portrayal of Noah’s ark. Not exactly how I’d envisaged kicking off our theological programme of study!
Maths – Numeracy Ninjas (see below) and the maths workbooks I frantically bought them in Waterstone’s the other day. With Martha (3) I played a game of Dotty Dinosaurs (Orchard Toys) which is good for shape recognition. We also baked cookies later which I reckon counts as maths!
Lunch, then a bit of TV while I had a quick lie down.
Art” – we made a giant banner for our neighbour who turned 4 today. We also received party bags from them so teh children had lots of fun playing with their little toys and eating sweets. 10y-old also made playdough as birthday present for neighbour.
Harry Potter Game with Dad.

A friend recommended Numeracy Ninjas to me, where you can print off free worksheets for your children to do each day.

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I guess if you wanted to make a big banner but it wasn’t someone’s birthday, you could just make up a random reason. A bible verse maybe, or a cheery slogan of some sort? The children did enjoy this.

Later in the day we received work packs from school, which I found completely overwhelming. They have written out a (thankfully) “suggested” timetable. It’s similar to mine but involves more screen time (albeit educational), which I’m keen to avoid unless desperate. I’d rather reserve it for when I’m feeling unwell or trying to lead a Bible study. There’s also no way I can teach my three children three different history topics. I’m sure their teachers will understand – it’s the children I need to convince!

So today has had its ups and downs.

Our Tesco delivery arrived today, mostly intact. No rice or pasta but plenty of fresh food. I’m so grateful for God’s timing as we won’t be able to go and buy food for 2 weeks.

I’m thankful for friends who are willing to bring us things from the shops/pharmacy.

And I’m reminded of the importance of not wasting food. I hate waste anyway but when you’re into sure when you’ll next get to buy oranges (or rice) it does make you extra careful.

I also wasn’t 100% sure we were right quarantine ourselves but this afternoon I saw a GP I know had written on Instagram that you can’t be too cautious because the choices you make today affect people in ICU in 2 weeks’ time. So I think we did the right thing.

Praying that you, dear reader, would be trusting in the Lord’s provision today.

Busy going nowhere

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For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.  And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. Hebrews 13:14-17

From this weekend our children will be off school until further notice.

As I write this, we are still allowed to go outside but we assume it’s not helpful to do so other than to buy food or to help someone in need. Therefore we are facing at least a month (possibly 3 or longer) inside our 3-bed flat.

We want to be obedient and thankful, rejoicing in the Lord each day.  We want our children to look back on this as a a bit of an adventure. I’d like them to be able to say that although we were probably a bit stressed (!), we remained cheerful and that in a surprising way it was a really special time.

So we’re going to need to pray and depend on God.

I’ve also been thinking of a structure which I hope is realistic and will help us all to stay positive and not slip into despair.

Here are some unusual blessings:
We also live on top of a pharmacy and a supermarket, which means food and medicine are accessible – although this won’t allow for much of a leg-stretch when we need supplies.
We share a front door with another family, whose children will be referred to on this blog as the Oompa Loompas.
We have a large outside space, which is unusual for an urban flat.

So here is my plan. I hope to be able to share with you frequent updates in case it can be of any help. Please do share your ideas in the comments below.
I’ve never home schooled so this might be completely ridiculous. However, since we can’t go out anywhere I’ve planned more in than I would do if I were actually homeschooling long term.

“School Day” Routine

9.15: Prayer and “shake up to wake up” (Singing some lively praise songs, see below)
9.30: English (Phonics for the EYFS*); Comprehension/Handwriting/Spellings
10.00: Maths (Shapes/counting for the EYFS); Maths workbooks/schoolwork
10.30: Fruit break and run around outside
10.45-11.45: EYFS ‘Choosing’ (e.g. playdough/dressing up/colouring/blocks/train set); KS1/2** Humanities
11.45-12.15: Bible teaching and related activities
12.15: Helping to prepare lunch.
12.30-1pm: Lunch
1-1.45: PE/Games (I’m hoping my husband will be in charge of this!)
1.45-2: Silent reading (Story time for EYFS)
2-3.30: Art/Cookery/Science (Messy things)
3.30-3.45: Tidy up time; Closing prayer

3.45-4.30: Quiet time (please!)

Songs for the Shake Up: “My God is so Big” and “Super Saviour” by Colin Buchanan and “A New New Day” and “We are the Church” By Awesome Cutlery. All are available on YouTube with singalong lyrics. 

Things I’m hoping to do:
Tie-dye: my 10-yr-old daughter has been talking about doing this for a while. I’ve ordered a kit… I’ll let you know how it goes!
I’d love to try making cinnamon buns.
Lots of baking cakes – although we really will need to keep up the exercise to compensate.
Learn (along with my children) to knit.
Finally give the children some piano and guitar lessons.
This may only make me happy, not anyone else, but I’d really like to chuck some of our stuff away! It’s good for the soul.
My sweet younger daughter turns 4 in April – I do hope we can make it a fun celebration for her.

Wish list for keeping our cheer:
Praying each day – giving thanks and praying for those going through difficult times. I’d like the children to keep little log books of things they enjoyed each day and things to be thankful for. 

Evening activities:
I think we’re going to get Disney Plus for a few months
Board games (we’ve bought some news ones)
Letter writing – to relatives and friends we haven’t seen for weeks!

If you’d like some ideas for teaching the children – including Easter-themed stuff – please click on the Teaching category below. There is always loads of great stuff on the Faith in Kids website too.

I’ll let you know how it’s going!

*EYFS stands for Early Years Foundation Stage. It includes Nursery and Reception children, which in our case is my child no. 4 and the Oompa Loompas.
**Key Stage 1 is Years 1-2 (ages 5-7); Key Stage 2 is Years 3-6 (ages 7-11)

Dear Gail Porter

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Since watching the recent BBC documentary, Being Gail Porter, I’ve felt compelled to write a response.  Following the tragic death of Caroline Flack last weekend, I can’t help but see the similarities between these two women. Both were children’s TV presenters who went on to host hugely successful mainstream TV shows. Both suffered at the hands of the media and were left with severe mental health issues. Both were idolised and derided.  Thankfully, Gail is still with us, but it could so easily have not been so.

Here are some simple thoughts, in the form of an open letter.

Dear Gail,

I watched your fascinating and moving documentary. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I was a teen of the nineties, so your Top of the Pops years were my Top of the Pops years, too. Watching the clips of your time on the show was like flicking through a photo album of my formative years.

I’m not a psychologist or a medic or a counsellor of any kind. I don’t claim to have a useful diagnosis for you and I won’t be recommending any self-help books that I think will give you the answers you need. But if you were my friend (and I do have friends who share various things in common with you), this is what I would love to say.

I firstly wanted to say how sorry I am. I’m sorry for all the ways you’ve been hurt and let down. The clip from Never Mind the Buzzcocks was hard to watch, and I’m sure it was just a taste of all you’ve experienced. I’m sorry that our society is such a dangerous place.

You seemed like you were searching for answers – what had happened to you? Where had it all gone wrong and why? I don’t know you – we’ve never met – but I can tell you what I believe to be true.

The Bible says that we’re made in God’s image – each and every one of us. That means we’re hugely valuable and very precious. We’re made for relationships, first and foremost with Him, our creator. We’re made for freedom, for joy, for good works and for love. We have a purpose; that purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. God’s word says that there are good works which he planned in advance for us to do. So when we’re lonely or we feel unloved or lost, it’s often because something’s gone very wrong with the relationship between God and the people he’s made. Living my own way, I might feel free at first; I might have a right-rollicking good time. But like a fish out of water, I’m soon left floundering and gasping for oxygen.

The trouble is, God seeks our good – but people are not like that. People take advantage of us and treat us harshly.  In the hands of others, rather than God, we can be elevated and then crushed. We can be flattered and then mocked. We can be bolstered and then betrayed. We can be admired and then shamed. People hurt us. There’s no doubt that you have been catastrophically failed by those around you and by our culture at large. If we truly are made to be loved and to love, then it’s no wonder that you’ve suffered such mental health problems as a result of all that’s happened to you. If we’re just mammals; if sex is just fun; if my body is just flesh and bones, then why does it hurt so much?

“I just wish I was a better person.” You said this in the film when you were feeling very low after attending an event in Westminster.  I don’t know exactly that you meant at the time, or if you often feel like that, but I think it’s a feeling most people have. We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t and said things we feel guilty about. I think most of us have felt truly ashamed at times. I know I have, and still do. I definitely wish I were a better person!

But I’ve found hope. Jesus humbles me and then lifts me up. He does the opposite of the tabloids (who are, of course, acting on behalf of the people who read them). He’s the antithesis of social media. Jesus tells me that I’m much worse than I think I am. Then he offers me real hope because I’m also more loved than I’ve ever deserved or even imagined. In Jesus I have a friend who’ll never betray me, who’ll never break his promises and who’ll always protect me. One of the ways that he loves me best is by reminding me that he is the King at the centre of the universe. This is so liberating.

Jesus covers my shame. In the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), Adam and Eve brought shame upon themselves by disobeying God’s perfect rule. They immediately felt ashamed because they were naked, so they tried to hide. Ever since then, every human being has brought shame upon themselves by following in Adam and Eve’s footsteps. If we don’t feel shame, we really are in trouble because the truth is we do stand naked before God and he sees it all. But in the Garden, even as God was judging Adam and Eve, he clothed them.

He covered their nakedness. This was a sign that one day he would remove their shame by clothing them with perfection. Jesus came to live the beautiful life that none of us has been able to live. He came to be the “better person” that none of us can be. And if we trust in him, he clothes us with his “righteousness,” which is Bible-speak for a life perfectly lived. It’s a clean, pure, no-regrets and full-of-joy life. It’s our own Wikipedia page deleted and replaced with a perfect track record – the life we should have lived. This is what Jesus offers us.

I believe that God would take your pain and heal you; he would take your shame and clothe you, he would take your loneliness and love you; he would take your emptiness and fill you. All you have to do is turn to him, say sorry, and ask. 

One more thing. At the end of the documentary we saw you singing in a choir. I hope that’s been beneficial to your mental health, as you hoped it would be. I’m sure you know this, but it’s worth being reminded that every single week there is a free place you can go to where you can sing your heart out alongside a community of broken-but-healing friends. They sing from a Book which reminds them to sing because it’s so good for the soul – and because it pleases their Father in Heaven.

But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
    let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
    that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

 Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;
    you surround them with your favour as with a shield.
Psalm 5:11-12

Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.
Isaiah 61.7

All Grace

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I recently read a really good secular parenting book.  It was practical, insightful and loving. And it got me thinking about grace.

I know loads of fantastic parents who wouldn’t consider themselves Christians, so this is in no way a dig at non-Christian parents.  If anything, it’s a dig at myself. 

Advice given in this book included (these aren’t direct quotes):

Start each day with a clean slate – no matter how badly yesterday went.
Don’t beat yourself up when you make mistakes – give yourself a break and look ahead, not behind.
Teach the children to be kind to one another, because in this family that’s how we do things.
Family traditions should be kept, no matter how people have behaved.

These are all really important, in my opinion. Great advice.  But how do you do this without grace? When you’ve been called names and had things thrown at you, how do you put your child to bed with a goodnight kiss and, “I love you” and start the next morning with, “Good to see you, how are you feeling?” How do you forgive?

And how do you forgive yourself when you realise that they’ve learnt their bad anger from you, or when you snap at them again because you were distracted by something else?

When her brother deliberately ruins the craft she’s been working on for three days, how can I tell her to forgive him and love him anyway?

And how can I hand my daughter a Christmas Eve Krispy Kreme when she’s tantrummed all the way there because no, she will not be getting a Segway for Christmas?*

For all of these predicaments and more, I need the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  When I consider his grace to me, that the Son of God should die for me, an ungrateful sinner, then forgiving others becomes possible.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32.

When I come to the cross of Christ with my parenting failures, confessing again that I’ve fallen short, again, and that it was completely my own selfish fault, I find sweet forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16

And none of this – the forgiving others and the confessing my own sin – would be possible without the Holy Spirit, who changes my heart daily.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.

I suppose if you don’t believe in the grace of God and you’re not filled with the Spirit, then you need to summon the strength from within you to forgive your family and yourself.  It can help to believe that your children ‘don’t mean it.’  He didn’t know it would make her sad if he did that; she doesn’t know how expensive Segways are.  It’s only natural they should fight – all children do.  He’s calling me names because he’s upset about something – he doesn’t mean to hurt me.

Sometimes these are the things I tell myself.  But that’s not what the Gospel tells me.

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The Gospel says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3.23-24.) There is no difference between parent and child.  We’re all sinners in need of mercy.

So if you’re reading this and you’re not a believer, I marvel at your ability to parent well. I marvel partly because you’re doing it without a church family to help you, and without the wisdom that the Bible gives us, but mainly because you’re doing it without the daily supply of grace that I desperately need.

To learn more about this grace, try clicking here. Or you could watch this award-winning Christmas video.

*I should say that the examples I’ve used about things children do are not specific to my own children.  My daughter has never actually had a tantrum over a Segway!  I don’t want to defame them.  

(Belated) Back to School

 

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September is a bit like January, with all of its good intentions and naïve dreams of being a better version of myself.  Over the summer I scheme and daydream and about being more on top of things, and wonder whether this is finally the year we’ll get “the balance right.”

When my children returned to school this term, I felt quite lost for a couple of days.  Suddenly the flat was quiet and I had time to do all the things I had been putting off during the holidays. But where to start?

By week two, we’re were off to the proverbial races and we have to remember PE kits, after-school clubs, homework and consent forms.  I feel like now that it’s all in full swing, there isn’t much time for quiet reflection.  But I have noticed one thing:

I’m still me.

I’m not the slick, imaginary version of myself I’d dared to hope I might be.

As it’s a ‘new year’ I’ve been using some new Bible reading notes, and I’m slowly reading John Chapters 14-16.  I keep thinking about these words:

 

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15)

If you can relate to my emotional ups and downs, here are a few encouragements from Jesus’ words here:

You’re in Christ.  If you believe in the Son, and he’s your Lord, then you’re secure in him. This is the same whether your kids are at home, at school, or at the hospital.  It’s true when your morning is running smoothly, and it’s true when someone spills the cereal and the cucumber lands in your tea.  It’s true at the Seaside in August, and it’s true on the school run in September.

You’re bearing fruit.  If you’re in Christ, then he’s making sure you bear fruit.  He’s making you more like himself.  It’s not just my children who’ll be learning a thing or two this year.  Jesus has a curriculum ready for me, too.

If you’re bearing fruit, you’ll be pruned.  Jesus’ curriculum for me will at times be painful, because he’s chopping off the selfishness; the pride; the impatience; the harshness; the self-pity; the badness etc.  And this is good news! He’s getting rid of it, so I need to get with the programme.

Apart from Him you can do nothing.  I don’t need to be slick (there’s no danger of that, so phew!), and I don’t need anyone to think I’m on top of things.  I don’t need to depend on a new system or regime for getting out of the door and through the school gate on time and in a state of calm serenity.  I need to depend on Him.  Seriously, I need to remain in him.  Jesus repeats this phrase to emphasise that this is what we need.  We must depend on him.  We must trust and obey him.  I need to take my eyes off my ‘to-do’ list and wish lists, and fix them on Christ.

It’s for the Father’s glory, not mine.  “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15v8) When I remember and acknowledge that I’m completely dependant on Christ, I will give the glory to the Father.  What’s my goal for this term?  Is it to keep a neat hallway?  Is it to donate more stuff to the charity shop?  Is it to finally teach my daughter the piano?  Well, those could be my mini goals, but my ultimate goal must be to glorify my Father in heaven.  That is obedience.  And let’s face it, that is much, much more worthwhile.

Let’s pray for a fruitful term, to the Father’s glory, knowing that the Gardener will have some pruning to do.  (And try not to forget the packed lunches.)

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