Grenfell

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Taken by my friend from her home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Overwhelmed by donations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 🙂 

Trials and Temptations

 

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Whoever drinks this water will be thirsty again…

I deleted my introduction. Will this do instead?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Praise the Lord.

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

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

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

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

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

This I Know

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Parents get asked a lot of questions.  My children like to grill me on the way to school, while I’m trying to keep them all from getting run over or walking in dog poo.  The questions range from “Is it C THREE PO or C E PO?” to “How does fruit grow?” and often include several follow-up questions.  Sometimes I don’t know the answers; sometimes I do.

My friends ask me questions sometimes too, and sometimes I know the answers, but sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes life gives me questions to ask, and often I cannot find the answers.

I know why bad things happen in general, but I don’t know why certain bad things happen.  This week I found out that a 3 year old boy who used to play with my son went to bed on Friday night with a cold and never woke up.  How utterly tragic and horrifying.  I don’t know why that happened.

When something devastating happens, people often say “I don’t know what to say.”  Sometimes there isn’t a lot to say, other than words of mourning.  And often we don’t feel we should say those words.  Words such as “why?” and “how long?”  Maybe we feel that instead of asking questions, we should have the answers.  But sometimes nobody has the answers.

I know that death entered the world when sin entered the world, but I don’t know why certain people die when they do.  When they’re so young, when so many people will miss them.

I know that we sin against each other because we sin against God, but I don’t know why certain people get away with doing such terrible things to people.

I know that because of sin there is injustice, but I don’t know why some people never have enough of the things that I myself take for granted, such as safety, shelter and food.

I know that this is a fallen world, but I don’t know why certain people have to live with pain, or illness, or loneliness or shattered dreams.

But I do know some things for sure.

I know that Jesus knows how it feels to lose a friend. (John 11:35)

I know that when Jesus saw a widow grieving for her son, he raised him from the dead because he had compassion on her. (Luke 7:11-17)

I know that the Father in heaven knows what it is to lose a Son. (Mark 15:34Romans 8:32)

I know that Jesus promises comfort when we mourn, and rest for our souls if we come to him.(Matthew 5:4; Matthew 11:28-30)

I know that He is good, He is gracious, and He is sovereign. (e.g. Psalm 103).

I know when we come to him, the Lord promises a future without tears, or death, or pain. (Revelation 21:1-4)

Humbling Along

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I had a baby. Her name is Martha. Martha Grace Brooks. She arrived on 7th April. (Why Martha?)

What a humbling experience it is to have a newborn baby. You hope you slightly know what you’re doing a bit more with number four, and maybe you do but still not nearly enough. And you also can’t predict what might happen with this specific baby. My baby got mastitis. No, I didn’t know that could happen either. Neither did the Receptionist at A&E. I had to argue my way in!

One day, around week two I think, my 6-year-old daughter asked me this: “Why are babies born as babies? Why aren’t they born, bigger, like one or six or something?”
I think the question behind that question is, “Why does it have to be so bloomin’ hard? So much crying from baby and mum, so little sleep, so many dirty nappies!”

What would you have said? I was caught off guard and in my semi-conscious state said something about it being good for us to be humbled as parents, and also that we don’t always know why God makes things the way he does, but he is wise and we are not. Not the best answer but I think it was at least true, so could have been worse.

But I’ve been thinking about it a bit more, and I suppose there are several reasons why the Lord created us to be babies first. And we know that he glorifies himself in creation: when we look at his world, it shows us what he is like (see for example, Romans 1:18-20). So what can I learn about the Lord from my newborn baby?

Well one thing I have learnt is that in some ways my relationship with my child is a picture of God the Father’s relationship with me, his adopted child. As I look at her in her vulnerable state, relying on me for everything, and really giving nothing back in return (she isn’t even smiling yet), I can remember that I’m in a similar position (although more extreme) before my Heavenly Father:

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore. (Psalm 131)

As my baby trusts me, I can learn to trust my Father in heaven.

New parents often talk about the extreme emotions they feel for their newborn child, and how surprising it can seem that they are capable of such passionate feelings of love and protection for a little bundle of life. When I feel like that, I can remember that this is just a mere picture of the Lord’s feelings for his people. Look at how he spoke to his people through the prophet Isaiah:

As a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” Isaiah 66:13

The Lord in his mercy is using the picture of motherhood to explain to his people how tender his loving kindness is. And of course, his love is perfect, unlike the selfish, tired and grumpy version I offer to my own children.

I’m sure there are many more wonderful lessons about God which can be seen through nursing a newborn, but I am very tired and can’t go into them right now. If I go on any longer, I am bound to say something heretical by mistake. I also should be doing some housework and/or attending to my two year old, who is instead watching Bing.

So I will leave you once again with the words of that great Australian theologian of our time, Colin Buchanan:

“(One two buckle my shoe)
God loves her children like the chookie loves her chickies,
The mother hen will gather them underneath her wing.”

(See also Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34)

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Sunday Paradox

 

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One day I said to my daughter, “I’d rather you didn’t make that noise” and she said, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God.”

She wasn’t being cheeky, I suppose she just hadn’t heard the phrase “I would rather” very often, so it reminded her of Psalm 84v11, which at that time we had unceremoniously stuck to the kitchen wall (I recommend this kitchen wall tactic, by the way. If your children can read, they will rebuke/encourage you several times a day!).

Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God,
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

I suppose I’d put this on the wall to remind myself of something which I am prone to forget – that it really is better serving the Lord than living a godless life.

Sadly, Sunday mornings seem to be the time when I particularly forget this. This is the Sunday paradox.  I know it’s not just me who feels spiritually attacked on a Sunday morning. I’ve heard other people say it, too.  And it’s not that I think, ‘Aw, all my friends are having a lie in’ (like I would ever get a lie in anyway!), or that I wish I were watching my child playing football in the cold (!!), or that we were taking advantage of cheap Sunday morning cinema tickets (they do them on Saturdays too).

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It’s on Sundays that bickering is worse than usual, that shoes get lost and lentils get spilled (and, joking aside, that is just the adults). It’s on Sundays that you wish you had taken it a bit easier on Saturday, and also been more organised (both excellent ideas, incidentally) since now you and your husband have three responsibilities each to take care of at the church gathering – which is nine altogether if we count our children (which I suppose we should).

I’m sure it’s not just my Sunday morning inner dialogue that tends to be a mixture of this sort of thing:

“As if I haven’t got enough to do!”
“Oh no! Visitors!”
“I need to stop being so selfish!”
“I think I’ve had the least sleep out of everyone here.”
“Where are my children?”
“Will anyone even notice I’ve done this?”
“Where is my husband?!”
“I haven’t heard a sermon in two months.”
“My family is doing more harm than good here!”
“I need to get over myself!”

Maybe this doesn’t ring any bells. But for me, I have a whiney selfish voice arguing with a more rational, godly voice quite frequently, and no more so than on Sundays. I love my church, I really do – I’ve told you that before.  It’s me that has the problem.

Sometimes being a mum can feel a bit like being a “doorkeeper” – it’s not high profile, and you don’t need any qualifications to do it (which might give the illusion that it’s easy). And on a Sunday, maybe your role is to pin your children down while your husband does something more high profile. Or maybe it’s taking them out of the service so that people can actually hear what’s going on. Or maybe you’re leading crèche so that other mums can hear what’s going on.   These things are unlikely to win you much recognition, and sometimes you might wonder why you even bother turning up.  Or you might wish things were just a little bit less stressful, and that for once you could listen to a sermon all the way through and that nobody would throw up on you or wet themselves or have a tantrum.

So how can I remember that it’s better to do these (often thankless, mundane) things than dwell in the tents of the wicked on a Sunday morning? Well according to Psalm 84, I need to remind myself of how good the Lord is. I need to treasure Him above all else – above the world, above recognition, above my own ego. That’s why I like to sing the Matt Redman song based on this Psalm, because as we’re singing it we’re surely preaching it to ourselves, lest we forget:

How lovely is your dwelling place,
 Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.

Changeable Woman

Some days are just tough.
Some days are just tough.

Here are some thoughts from Week 7 of my pregnancy – mid August – because we so quickly forget what it’s like!

They say when you’re pregnant, more blood has to pump around your body. Is it possible that I can feel that happening? I’m incredibly thirsty, inconceivably tired, and keep getting short of breath when I move.

This week I had seven friends round for a dinner party. Does it count as a dinner party if we ordered fish and chips? Of course not. We didn’t even foot the bill. When one friend left she said, ‘thank you for eating your fish and chips with us’ which was exactly what I’d done. (It was actually a great evening. I would highly recommend such measures when you want to see friends but are completely wiped!)

I keep forgetting things. The other day I texted my friend to tell her we’d eaten at our new breakfast bar (I know, I only text urgent news). Half an hour later she mentioned it and I asked her if she’d been watching us through the kitchen window. Rather a wild accusation! She said, ‘No… you told me.’ Embarrassing.

I keep crying. I was reading an email out to my family about a friend’s son recovering from surgery, and I burst into tears. Well that’s quite a reasonable response, if a little out of character. I also nearly cried when trying to decide if the aforementioned breakfast bar was big enough or not.   Definitely not reasonable.

I keep wanting to eat spaghetti hoops from a tin (I found some at my mum’s today – wolfed them).

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, my body and mind are falling apart, which usually only means one thing: I’m pregnant.

But despite all of this evidence (as well as the positive pregnancy test – I’m not crazy), I still worry that maybe I don’t feel pregnant enough. I’m seven weeks, which feels like a long time but then it’s not really.   I lost a baby later than this back in 2010.   I’ve always thought it would be great to find out you’re pregnant at around 16 weeks, when you’re beyond the “danger zone” and can tell all your friends. But of course, that’s never happened to me. I always figure it out at around 4 or 5 weeks, and then can’t stop thinking about it until I take a test.   Then you need to wait a good couple of months before you get to see the miraculous heartbeat on the screen, and explain to everyone why you’ve been behaving like a complete nincompoop with the energy of a 93 year old.

So that’s the stage I’m at now. I occasionally panic that the baby isn’t OK. I read about the harvesting of foetal body parts and consider the grave injustice of this world. Why do some people have to suffer childlessness and loss, while others who don’t want children are blessed with fertility? What a mess this world is in. And since this world is in such a mess, do I really want to bring another child into it?  Well if I don’t, it’s too late now. But of course I do. I already desperately want this child to be healthy, and safe, and happy in the Lord.

And then other times – particularly between midnight and 7am – I panic at the thought of having another person determined to interrupt my sleep. Plus what if I don’t give enough attention to each of my children? And a hundred other concerns. So thus far pregnancy has taught me to pray, and trust in God’s oft-baffling but ever-true sovereignty.

Reading this now, early October, I’m thankful that even when my moods, senses, family size and body shape change, God never changes. The gospel is still true and God is still just and good, even when I’m eating spaghetti hoops out of a tin and crying at the news, when I forget I invited someone for lunch or I fall asleep on the sofa at 8.30pm.

Enough nonsense, here is some relevant truth from Walter C Smith:

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth Thee.

When the Going Gets Tough…

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“How can I bring a child into a world like this? How can a person grow up with all this around them?”
This is a line from the film Se7en, which if you’re as old as me you’ll remember all too well (and never quite get over).

Sometimes it can seem a strange decision to bring children into a world that’s so dangerous and full of suffering. It’s something a lot of parents worry about. The world’s in a mess – why would we want to inflict it on our loved ones? And if we do want to, should we? Is it selfish?

Older people are always harking back to the good old days when you could leave your pram outside a shop and your kids could play out after dark without any fear (I don’t buy any of this, incidentally but I won’t get into that).

But what really concerns me and gives me a knot in my stomach is the thought that my children are growing up in an increasingly secular, anti-Christian country. Our laws are changing, and they’re moving away from the Christian foundations that many of them were formed upon in the past.

And in the name of “tolerance” our freedom to speak about and express our beliefs is slowly being stolen from us, and we seem mostly powerless to stop it. Will my children lose their jobs or even go to prison for being Christians when they’re older? I don’t know, but that thought scares me.

So what should I do about it? Maybe tone down the Jesus stuff in the hope that they will keep their heads down and not really mention him to anyone? Or maybe we should move to another country where they would be free to live out their faith in safety. That’s a bit drastic, maybe we should just surround them with other Christians at all times, so they don’t suffer any conflict. All of these things – and other ways of either running or hiding – can seem appealing at times.

Last Sunday we looked at Psalm 11, in which one of King David’s allies was advising him to run and hide because their nation had, too, turned from God’s word:

“Flee like a bird to your mountain
For look, the wicked bend their bows;
They set their arrows against the strings
To shoot from the shadows
At the upright in heart.
When the foundations are being destroyed,
What can the righteous do?”

In other words, there’s nothing left to do but leg it. There’s no hope for us, when the world around us has turned it’s back on God’s word.

But David’s response is quite simple: he trusts in the Lord. He knows that the Lord sees what ‘the wicked’ are doing (whether they’re in the shadows or not), and that the Lord is in charge – he’s ‘on his heavenly throne.’ Nothing gets passed him. So when the world seems out of control, actually it isn’t. The Lord still reigns.

In Britain today, children are extremely safe. The rules on child protection and health and safety are stricter than they’ve ever been. We are extraordinarily well cared for medically. Whatever you’ve heard about the NHS (if you’re not British), it’s amazing. Ask anyone who has a chronic illness or has had a brain tumour removed. Our government is stable, and our police are relatively uncorrupt (is that even a word?). All of these things are huge blessings to us, but the trouble is that we start to trust in those things instead of in the Lord.

The British justice system is not my refuge – the Lord is. So when the former turns against me, I will not fall to pieces. The Lord sustains us, so if we lose access to medical care we will continue to trust him.   We’ve become so comfortable with life that we can forget who really provides for us, and that we’re really living for another home.

Of course it’s upsetting when we see injustice and we see the world turning further and further from God’s way. That should upset us – it’s a God-given emotion:

‘For the LORD is righteous,
he loves justice;
upright men will see his face.’

This is SUCH an encouragement to me. Yahweh loves justice. So if my children – or the people I see on the news – suffer injustice, then the Lord will sort that out one day. He really does care what’s happening to people, much more than we do. And if my children keep trusting him, they will see his face. And it will all have been worth it.

So when I’m worried about how Christians might be treated in twenty or forty year’s time, I can thank God that he is still in control, that he sees what people are doing, and that soon he’ll put everything right. This is what I can teach my children, because unlike our country’s laws, it’s a truth that will never change.

If you’re still not sure, look at Jesus. In Gethsemane, wicked men hid in the ‘shadows’ to arrest him, although he was innocent. He didn’t ‘flee’, but all of his friends did. And when has there ever been a clearer picture of ‘the foundations being destroyed’ than when God’s king hung dying on the cross? And yet: since that tomb was found empty, every believer can know for sure that one day they ‘will see his face.’

With special thanks to Robin Silson, who so clearly explained this psalm to us last week.

The Power of “Goodbye”

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What’s the hardest thing about raising young children in the city?

I wonder what you think. The traffic, the rent, cramped living, the lack of grass? The noisy neighbours, the hit-and-miss schools, the on-street (and not even your own street) parking? How about the hours spent commuting, or the polluted air, or the lack of like-minded Christian families?   These are all relevant – some more than others. (Grass is overrated, friends. Heaven is a garden CITY.)

For me, not one of these things is the hardest thing about raising my children in the city. The hardest thing is this: people leave. I’m trying to nurture a stable family in a transient city, which feels a bit like trying to make friends in the middle of Kings Cross station. Some people do stop, they say hello, they might even invest a little. But then they have to rush – they have a train to catch.

People leave for good reasons. They take the gospel to undesirable places, or their job moves them, or they go to Bible college, or they move nearer to sick parents. (Some people don’t leave for good reasons, by the way, but I’m not here to judge.) And I can cope with that – ish. I miss them, and I cry when they leave, but I can see the bigger picture. The West Country needs youth workers: I get it.

But it’s harder for children to see the bigger picture. My daughter doesn’t even know how long an hour is; my son doesn’t quite know the difference between London and Longnewton (my parents’ village). So how are they meant to understand that it’s actually a good thing that we’re waving goodbye (yet again) to another precious friend, because they’re meeting a need somewhere in South East Asia? My heart aches in a way it never used to before I had children, because I don’t like to see them sad. It’s as simple as that.

It’s not just church family members, either. It’s the teachers, the support staff, and the classmates. They can be here one day, and gone the next. And each time this happens, I feel like my child’s foundations are crumbling away, bit by bit.

But I need to learn some things. I spent last night and this morning in tears about this issue, by the way, so please don’t assume I have this figured out!

The more people leave us, the more we rely on the Lord. He’s my rock and my foundation. He will never leave me. Time and again the Lord reminds his people of this fact: ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’* Sweet, sweet words. (This is what I told my daughter the day her nursery teacher was dismissed without notice.) And of course, Jesus himself comforted his disciples with these words: ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matt 28:20). When friends leave, we’re forced to lean more on the One who never does. So if our weak foundations do crumble, by God’s grace they can be replaced by the true Rock.

When people leave to serve in God’s Kingdom elsewhere, it does help the children to have a more global perspective. This is hard for them, but it is possible. We’ve found that showing them maps and praying for people in other countries has helped them with this. And, similarly, they are learning that we all suffer for the advance of the gospel – those who go, and those who stay behind. These are hard but character-building lessons to learn, and I pray that by learning them my children will be blessed, and will be a blessing to the Kingdom as they grow up.

Also, waving goodbye to people makes us long for Jesus to return soon. I can tell my children that in the new creation, in the garden city, there’ll be no more goodbyes. There’ll be no unreached people groups, no sick relatives, no war zones, no more tears. It would be nice if my church family could be together forever, and that nobody would have to leave, but then we wouldn’t look forward to heaven enough. And one day, we will be with our brothers and sisters for eternity. In the words of that great Australian theologian of our time, Colin Buchanan: ‘Hooley Dooley Wop Bam Boom! Jesus Christ is coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Let me know if you have any thoughts on this.  Click on the speech bubble, top right.

*Deut 31:6-8; Joshua 1:5; 1 Kings 8: 57.

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!