More than Sparrows

You may not want to hear any more about the crisis in Iraq, but I just feel I can’t not write something about it.  It’s been buzzing around my head and thrumming on my heart, keeping me awake at night and causing me to question so many things.  The only thing that could have stopped me writing about it is the fact that I’m not sure how to articulate any of those feelings, especially in a useful or encouraging way.  So this won’t be neat – how could it be?  I don’t have all the answers – I’m not sure I even have any.

Since becoming a mother I am definitely more sensitive to hearing about people suffering.  I don’t know why, I think maybe I now have more of a sense of how precious life is.  But when I hear about mass killings and horrors worse than death – unimaginable suffering – a lie creeps in.  It’s not a myth, but a lie.  I start to think that maybe children aren’t as precious as I thought they were.  I’ve been praying for and caring for my kids, and loving the bones of them, and thinking all this time that God loved them too.  But maybe I’ve got that wrong?  Maybe life is more throw-away than I thought it was?  This might sound crazy to you.  But when I hear a man on the radio saying that every child in his village has been murdered, I can’t marry that up in my mind with the idea that every child’s life matters.  I thought it did, but maybe I’m wrong?  And I don’t want to be wrong!

But when I think about that rationally, what I’m really doing is letting something other than God’s Word tell me the value of human life.  I’m letting terrorists tell me the value of human life.   And why would I do that?  Why would I let them preach to me that these children and families are not valuable, and that God doesn’t care about them?  (Incidentally, if God didn’t care so much, then why would anyone else in the world care so much?  What is human life if we’re all just atoms bopping around?  But that’s a thought for another day.)

So how do I know that God cares as much as me?  Or rather, how do I know that God is furious about this, and that he loves those people much more than I do?

In Matthew Chapter 10, Jesus speaks to his disciples about how the world will treat them. He tells them they will be ‘flogged in the synagogues’ among other things.  Please have a read of it for me.  And after he’s warned them about that, he gives them this beautiful reassurance:

28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

God does care – he cares about every hair on their heads.  And one day, he will bring about justice:

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

So when I think about those families, trapped on scorching mountainsides or crammed into refugee camps or much, much worse, I must remember that the Lord our heavenly Father made those people, and he loves and treasures them, and he will put things right one day.  Let’s pray that the Day would come soon, and ask God to encourage our brothers and sisters with these truths from Revelation 7:

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
    will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the centre of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

Trust Issues

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Easter is full of surprises

‘Don’t trust anyone.’  You often hear that in films, and you can be sure that the main character will later be betrayed by someone that they do make the mistake of trusting.  The implication of this is that you can’t actually live without trusting people.  You might think you’re not a trusting person, but you still trust some people.  If your children are at school, you trust their teachers to teach them and not to harm them.  You trust the barista in Starbucks not to poison your coffee.  And the higher the stakes, the more trustworthy a person needs to be.  If you’re jumping out of a plane, you want your pilot and whoever packed your parachute to be trained and qualified!

I’ve put my ultimate trust in one man – not just for my life, but for the lives of my children.  That man is the God-man, Jesus of Nazareth.  I am bringing my children up to put their trust in him, and to do that I have to be sure I trust him myself.  Otherwise, it’s too great a risk.

I got some good practice at this just under two years ago, when my brother had to have brain surgery to remove a benign tumour.  My brother believes in Jesus, and so Jesus promises that my brother will have eternal life with him.  Faced with the idea that my brother could die (brain surgery is brain surgery, after all), I had to decide again: do I trust this Jesus?  Do I trust him with my brother’s life?  At that time, I clung to this promise of Jesus from John’s Gospel:

‘I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.  Do you believe this?’ John 11:25 (He said this to Martha, whose brother had just died.)

At that time of fear and uncertainty, I chose to trust Jesus.  And every day, as I teach my children the Bible and bring them up to be soldiers of Christ, I am choosing to trust Jesus.  I’m trusting that he is all that he said he is when he walked the earth.

But how can I trust him?  There’s no greater risk than risking your eternal future, and so how has Jesus earned my trust?

Let me show you:

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”’ Then they remembered his words.  Luke 20:1-8.

Friends, the tomb was empty.

Meltdown

 

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Sometimes life looks like this…
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… and sometimes it’s more like this.

Happy Mother’s Day everyone! I wrote this post a week ago and I’m just getting around to posting it.  It occurred to me that perhaps it’s wildly inappropriate to be writing these things on Mother’s Day – but then again I thought maybe the opposite is true? I hope you don’t have a meltdown today, but I’m sure there’s no guarantee.  If you’re not a mum and you read this, maybe it will inspire you to give a mum you know a cuddle today!

I had a meltdown this week. By meltdown I mean a grown-up tantrum, unless when I write grown-up you think of rational, reasonable and proportionate, in which case it was just a tantrum.

And I just thought that I should tell you about it – lest you think that I’ve got it all together. Some people tell me I’m always calm. I can be screaming on the inside, but for some reason people will say to me things like, ‘How are you not stressed?’  My family (parents; brother; husband) find this all very amusing, because they know I’m like a wild donkey really in the emotions department. Anyway, I’d hate for you to think that, because I write this blog, I’m fine every day.  And even when I tell people I’ve had a meltdown, I will say it in a calm (or even entertaining) way, which detracts from the reality of the emotional rubbish heap I found myself in on Wednesday evening.

I think it’s normal to do this sometimes – to find a day really hard and to decide to sit and have a cry. Or worse, experience the thunderstorm on the inside but not quite know how to express it.  Maybe something obvious triggers it  – a toddler tantrum followed by the washing machine leaking and then rounded off with banging your head on the kitchen cupboard (I HATE banging my head.  It’s my least favourite thing to do).  In a way these times are simpler, because then when your husband comes home (or your mum walks in) and finds you in a heap on the floor, you can explain yourself.

Other times it’s less obvious. Could it be cumulative tiredness or stress?  Hormones? Doubts trickling in about God’s goodness? Worries about money occupying your thoughts and reducing your capacity and patience?

This time it wasn’t really anything obvious.  I wanted my husband to be home, and he was a bit late.  I suddenly felt really, really sick of looking after my children, all the while watching them and feeling incredibly guilty for having such selfish thoughts:  ‘I’ve been breastfeeding this baby for eight-and-a-half months and I’d like a day off!’  ‘God has sustained this life for eight-and-a-half months and all I can do is whine about it!’  Etc.

I’m no expert, but I assume that if I felt like this every day, I would probably be spiralling into a depression and should ask someone for some serious help.  But once in a while, is it normal for a mum to feel trapped and weary and a bit like she needs to scream into a pillow?  I dare say it is.

Now it’s probably the appropriate moment to present the solution to my emotional problems, in order to encourage any mums out there who can relate to what I’m saying.  But actually I don’t have the solution, and because I don’t think there is an easy fix, I’m not going to try giving you one.

My husband, like many men, is a fixer. This is a good quality, and I’m not knocking it.  But it’s a burden for him when there’s something he can’t fix.  That’s why it’s hard for him when I’m in labour! And it’s hard for him when I’m just feeling fed up of my 24/7/365 job.  He can encourage me to go to bed early, but that won’t necessarily stop me being tired (especially if the baby wakes in the night). He can remind me of God’s kindness and all there is to be thankful for.  Now that is a good one, but it won’t necessarily cheer me right up instantly. So sometimes, I just need a hug. It’s a cliché, but sometimes you do just need a shoulder to cry on, and for someone to tell you that it’s not really surprising that you quite fancy a holiday in the Maldives.

But when I’m feeling down, I need to preach to myself, rather than listen to myself.  Below I’ve listed a few things that spring to mind, in no particular order because this is not the place for a polished piece:

  • Is God surprised by my tears? I assume not, otherwise why would he say that ‘he will wipe every tear from [our] eyes’?  (Rev 21.4)
  • If life is hard, then that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way. I can learn to change my expectations – life is not a bed of roses.  CS Lewis wrote: ‘If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.’  So I can thank God, even in the tears, that he’s teaching me something, even when I can’t fathom what that is at the moment.  Then I can go to bed – tomorrow is a new day.
  • My church family is there for me, so I need to be honest about how things are going.  Anything else is lying.  And they can’t help me at all if they think I’m absolutely fine.
  • Guilt and shame are a thing of the past, because I am in Christ.  Yes I should say sorry for wishing I were far away from my beautiful children. No I may not feel ashamed and guilty. ‘Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one.  Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.’  Romans 8:33-34.
  • I need to pray that if God doesn’t want to change my situation, that he would change me instead. I trust he can do this, because he’s been doing it for about thirteen years now.  And sometimes, when I’m not looking, he does graciously change my situation too.  Thanks be to God.
  • My emotions don’t define me, so there’s no need to panic.  God is still God when I’ve locked myself in the bathroom.  The gospel is still true when I don’t know how I’m going to get through the day.
  • Sometimes, like Elijah in 1 Kings 19:3-6, what I actually need is to sleep, eat, then sleep some more.

 

Learning to say ‘Thank You’

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One day this will be a nostalgic image for me!

I’ve been excavating this week.  When you have your second or subsequent baby, you have to unearth all of the baby paraphernalia that you’d hidden under the bed/on top of the wardrobe/at your mum’s house.  It’s quite heartwarming in a way, because it takes you back to those early days with your older child(ren) which seem so long ago. But in other ways, it’s a tiny bit disheartening.  What I mean is, I find it really satisfying to get rid of stuff I don’t need anymore because I’ve moved on to a new stage.  So going back to the earlier stages and starting all over again can bruise my organisational ego.  I’ve realised that I often look forward to the day when I won’t need an entire kitchen cupboard dedicated to plastic crockery, sippy cups, bottles and baby food.  Or when I won’t need to buy kiddie snacks or dairylea slices, because the kids will eat what we eat (this may never happen but shhhh don’t tell me).  But even as I long for this I do have a sneaking suspicion that it’s not a very godly way to think.

Growing up I was always told, ‘Don’t wish your life away.’  I think that was because I always wanted to be about three to five years older than I was (those days are gone, I can assure you).  Although this isn’t a phrase from the Bible, it is wise advice.  Always pining for the next thing is really a recipe for discontentment.  While I’m longing for the days when I can have a serious conversation with my son, I’m missing the blessings of the here and now.  While I’m pining for the time when I won’t have to cadunk my buggy up the steps because my buggy will be long gone, I’m ignoring the beauty of cute babes in a pushchair.

I’m reading a really interesting book which has encouraged me massively – One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  Today I read this, as Ann recollects holding her sleeping daughter, the youngest of six children:

‘My baby is five… She is leaving me, she’s growing up and moving away from me, and she stirs and I sweep back the crop of golden ringlets.  Stay, Little One, stay.  Love’s a deep wound and what is a mother without a child and why can’t I hold on to now forever and her here and me here and why does time snatch away a heart I don’t think mine can beat without?’ (p. 160)

I felt so rebuked by this.  My eldest isn’t five yet, and I often wish she were just a bit older.  But I’m sure one day (maybe soon) I’ll turn around and mourn the loss of their early years.  That will also be discontentment of course!  So what’s the solution?  How do I enjoy the here and now; savour the moment?  Well, Voskamp’s book is all about thankfulness.  I know I should be thankful for today, but how?

One wonderful thing about being a parent of young children is that you have someone showing you how to live in the moment and enjoy the here and now, every single day.   Here are a few things my tots were excited about today (and these are just the ones they shouted about):

–       steam from a chimney

–       an aeroplane (many, many times, we live under the Heathrow flight path)

–       a blue van

–       ‘Sparkles’ (Actually the sunlight reflected in raindrops on a grey, dirty pavement)

I want to be more like that.  I want to be enchanted by the mundane and thankful for the ordinary.  If I can learn to do that, then I’ll start to focus on the beautiful things in my life, great and small, and to sideline the hard things that I can’t change.

At the end of a wearying day, I want to tell my husband every detail of the battles I’ve endured.  I don’t want to focus on the lovely things, because… hmmm, if I’m honest I don’t want him thinking I’ve had an easy day.  Then he might not sympathise with me.  If I tell him all the blessings, then who gets the glory?  Not me, of course, but the Lord, the giver.  I want this, and I don’t want it.  My new, spirit-filled heart wants to praise the Lord; it’s my sinful, self-centred self who wants to wallow in self-pity, ingratitude and dissatisfaction.

I’ve heard many times before that being thankful is a way to find joy and to be content.  But it seems so hard to do.  It is hard, but I’m realising that it’s a lesson to learn, and a lesson that takes time.  We can train ourselves to be thankful.  Ann Voskamp trained herself by writing one thousand things she loves, or in other words one thousand gifts she is thankful for.  I’ve started trying to do this myself.  I’m making quite slow progress, partly because I’m out of practice (I’ve never been in practice), and partly because I don’t have my notebook lying around all day (for fear of it being splattered/snatched/accidentally recycled), so I have to remember things and write them down later.  But even so, I can tell that God is gently changing me as I discipline myself to find the beauty in my life.

So may I encourage you now to try this – you don’t have to write it down or set yourself a target of course, but if you would like to find more joy, try learning to be thankful for the ‘now’ you’re in.  Maybe you live in a beautiful location, in which case your list will probably be full of natural beauty.  However, may I refer you to the title of this blog, and remind you that I live far away from wildlife (unless you count pigeons and the odd urban fox, which I absolutely do not!) or sweeping landscapes.  But there is still beauty in my life, and I’m learning to find it.  Here are ten items from my list so far, just to encourage you to give it a go:

7. Help up the stairs

10. Soft slippers on aching feet

16.  My children stopping at the road

20. Double glazing

23. A cup of tea by the bed

26. The listening ear of a friend

44. The kitchen bin, empty

60. The radio

62. The generosity of friends

111. Anaesthetic

Nothing spectacular I know, but they’re God’s gifts to me and it’s right that I thank him for them.  You can probably think of something more joy-filling than an empty kitchen bin, and I encourage you right now to thank God for whatever that is!

So I’m hoping, by God’s grace, that by cultivating a thankful heart, I will bring glory to God with my attitude, I’ll find joy, and I won’t get to the end of my life and realise I’ve spent it wishing I were somewhere else.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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