Close Quarters, Creative Quarters?

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I’ve been thinking about space.

First, a word or two about the size of my home.  It’s a 3-bed flat, which is quite extravagant in central London, and it’s quite spacious for a 3-bed flat in Central London.  So we’re very grateful for our flat.  Without it, we wouldn’t live here.  That sounds obvious but it’s true.  So please don’t hear the following as a complaint, but rather a reality of our family life.

I think it is fair to say that our home is quite a small space for six people to live in.  I don’t think anyone would rebuke me for finding it crowded – which I do.  I sometimes wonder whether we’re just being completely ridiculous, trying to raise four children in this flat.  I mean, I think my brother’s hallway in Glasgow is bigger than my living room (which also serves as a dining room/craft room/play room/Bible study room/homework room).

I have no laundry room, no second bathroom (master/children’s/guest or other), no mud room, no yarn room.  I only mention these rooms I don’t have because they’re all mentioned in blogs or parenting books I’ve read.  And sometimes it seems hard to apply the priniciples from those blogs/podcasts/books to my own situation, since I don’t have the facilities to which those authors have become accustomed.

So does it matter?  Is parenting basically the same whether you have a games room in the basement or, well, not (i.e. no basement, or loft, or garage, or driveway, or porch)?

Well, one thing I’m realising more and more is that everyone’s situation is different.  Even living in identical houses in the same town, two families are never going to be the same.  This is obvious, almost embarrassing to point out, and yet I think we often worry when we notice differences in our families, as if that’s not a good thing.  So we can take encouragement from other families, but we shouldn’t expect to or even try to be carbon copies of them.  God designs diversity.

I was listening recently to a podcast where two mums were talking about being creative and wanting their children to be creative.  And I agreed with them, and I want that for my children, but I felt a bit sad thinking about how hard it is to be creative when there isn’t any room at home to swing a cat, never mind build one out of papier mache.  When my children want to do something with glitter, or glue, or even just wool, inwardly I groan because they can’t do it far away enough from my toddler, and also it’ll soon be a mealtime and we’ll have to move it all out of the way so we can eat.

And I don’t want to be the inward groaner.

But one thing occurred to me.  I can help my children to be creative, but I need to figure that out for my own situation.  In other words, I need to think creatively about how to enable and encourage creativity in my home, because of the fact that my home is small  (small and lacking in ventilation).  It also occurred to me that it might be a blessing for my children to have a mother who has thought creatively about how to help them with this.  Maybe it will flex some creative muscles in me that will make me a more creative mother. 

And that reminded me that God, our Heavenly Father, actually could give us a bigger home if he thought it would be good for us.  He’s not dismayed or baffled by my home.  So maybe he’s using it for our spiritual good.  And when I say maybe, I mean of course he is.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6v31-34.

(Or you might say, “Do not worry, saying “where will they sit?” “how will they sleep?” or “what if they want to learn the drums?” For parents in the world run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them (perhaps not the drums).  But follow Jesus, and teach them to follow Jesus, and things will work out well for you, according to His will. So don’t worry!”)

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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.

Win When Your Singing

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Sometimes I have a really bad idea.  Like when I think that my child can travel a long distance on a balance bike.  Or when I think that I can get on the tube in rush hour with a child, a child’s bike and a baby.   It seems that “overreaching” is often my downfall.  Ever the optimist.

But sometimes, less often, I have a really good idea.  My good ideas tend to come in musical form.  I think of a song, usually to help in a difficult situation, and it sticks. And rather than keep these songs to myself, I thought I’d share them with you in case they can be of any use in your family.  And perhaps you’d like to share with us any songs or other useful brainwaves of your own?

My most recent composition (she chuckles), is a teeth-brushing song.  A song for when one is brushing one’s teeth.  Or rather, for when your toddler is reluctantly brushing his/hers.  While I’m helping/encouraging my 3 year old to brush his teeth, I sing this song, to the tune of “I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair” from South Pacific:
“I’m gonna brush that [weetabix] out of your teeth,
I’m gonna brush those [shreddies] out of your teeth,
I’m gonna brush that [yogurt] out of your teeth,
And send it on its way.”
You just insert whatever they’ve eaten into the song, obvs.  I’ve also discovered that as a bonus, this actually helps them with sequencing!  If we do the food in order (or reverse order), apparently that helps them with maths.  Whoop!  My son loves this, and it certainly distracts him from the fact that he doesn’t want to brush his teeth.

An old favourite of mine was partly thanks to Rachel Jankovic, who I think in her book “Loving the Little Years” writes about having little ropes or ribbons attached to her pushchair for her older children to hold onto while they walked around the shops.  She called them “stations”, but we’re not as fun as that.  Anyway, I tied a red plaited rope to my Maclaren and encouraged my then-2-year-old daughter to hold it while we walked along, to keep her close.  She wasn’t always keen, so I came up with this song to the tune of “Frere Jacques“:
“Red rope, Red Rope, 
Hold on tight, hold on tight,
Keeping up with mummy,
Keeping up with mummy,
Good girl, good girl.”
This worked a treat, as again it made her forget that she didn’t actually want to be obedient.  We still sing it sometimes, and the children fight over the red rope nowadays (sigh).

This one is a bit gross I suppose, so if you don’t have kids yet, stop reading now!  But when I was potty training my eldest and she was too small to sit on a normal sized toilet, but we were out somewhere and she had to use a normal sized toilet, I would hold her over the loo and sing this, to the tune of “London’s Burning
“Mummy’s got you, Mummy’s got you,
Do a wee wee, do a wee wee,
Well done! Well done!
Wipe your bottom, flush the toilet!”
Again, it got me out of some sticky situations if she was scared she’d fall in but clearly needed to go.  I would say, “come on, you’ll be fine.  I’ll sing the song!”  So dignified.

Another song which I’ve found really useful is the “Oh and Don’t forget” song from Show Me, Show Me on CBeebies.  It’s a great one to use on long car journeys.  I can’t find a link to the tune, but if you know it, you can make up verses like this:
“Steering, steering, hands upon the wheel,
Steering, steering, oh and don’t forget:
Windows, windows, wind them up and down,
Windows windows, wind them up and down (back to steering)
Wipers, wipers, swish away the rain,
Wipers, wipers, swish away the rain (back to windows, then steering, then another verse)”
Sorry if I’ve lost you on that one!

Another one I’ve stolen but definitely can’t take credit for is “I wanna hold your hand” by the Beatles, which sometimes helps my children to hold my hand when they really would rather just run in the opposite direction or into traffic.  (They do like to run towards traffic.)

We have other songs, but they’re more family specific, like the song about our door number (in case the kids ever need it!), and songs about our children.  I’ve mentioned before that Mike made up a song about dirty nappies to the tune of the South African National Anthem, but I’m not sure we know each other well enough for me to share that here.  But I would definitely recommend singing to alleviate boredom (such as when pushing your child on a swiiiing), or to cheer everyone up when things are hard (like when you’re not allowed to run into the busy road even though you really want to).  And when everyone’s in a really bad mood, you’ve got to whip out a Seeds Family Worship number or other memory verse song to give yourself some perspective, am I right?

So how about you?

 

Book Recommendation: Hope When it Hurts, Kristen Wetherell & Sarah Walton

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There is one great sign that you are loved more than you thought.  It is the cross.  And there is a still further sign that you will live in tis love forever.  It is the empty tomb.*

The cross is so precious to Christians – to those who know what it means for them.  But it seemed at the time to be a catastrophic end to a promising life.  Shattered dreams, hope lost.  And yet, the cross is where our King triumphs.  He pays our debt in full.  He breaks the power of death: our great enemy, our big problem.  Our God’s greatest victory was won through agony and apparent weakness.  And so it’s not surprising that as Christians, we suffer.

There are those who will tell you that suffering only comes from lack of faith, or disobedience, or even God’s mistakes.  But it’s a lie.  In this broken world, we should expect to suffer.  That’s why I want to recommend this book to you, Hope When it Hurts.  It’s a series of short chapters meditating on 2 Corinthians Chapters 4 and 5.  You could read one a day, or read big chunks at a time.  Either way, I think it’s a really precious resource.

This book explores the value of weakness: not only is weakness inevitable but it is also used by God to show his power and to bless us.

This book explores the blessing there is in suffering, as it draws us nearer to the all-sufficient God.

This book is honest about life – written by two women who are learning these lessons as they go along – and points us to the good, sovereign, gracious God who has a plan and will not abandon us.

If you’re not suffering right now, it’s likely that you will do in the future and/or that someone close to you is.  It’s also really important that we don’t trust in our earthly comforts but that we trust in God, through the “easy” times as well as the “hard” times.  Yes, we’re heading for a perfect world, but since we’re not there yet I think you will find this book to be worth its weight in gold.

If we think that suffering and blessing can’t co-exist, we will always be seeing shallow pleasures and comforts, and we will miss out on the deep blessings of walking closely with Christ in suffering.  The world to come means that we can be pained and privileged at the same time. (Hope when it Hurts, p.82.)

*From Jared Wilson, The Wonder-Working God, quoted in Hope When it Hurts.

Easter Teaching – it’s not too late!

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Hello, I wanted to re-post this blog post from last Easter, in which I shared how I’d used the wonderful book “The Garden, The Curtain and The Cross” to teach my children.  However, I don’t seem to be able to re-post things anymore so you’ll have to click on the link instead, please.  We really enjoyed it last year, especially making and tearing the paper “curtain.”
For another idea, hop over to “Resources” and scroll down to the Bloody Easter teaching (alternatively that link should work).
I think I’m going to try Resurrection Eggs this year, partly because my children enjoyed doing the first two with their aunt last week, and partly because the sales assistant in Oxfam managed to sell me a load of plastic eggs today…

“Food-Shop” Challenge, Week Two

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I just wanted to write a quick update on the plan to cut my food bill in order to send money to Tearfund for those suffering a famine in East Africa.

I didn’t run out of fruit as I’d feared!  Hooray for bumper bags of apples.  The Lord provides.

I was definitely more aware of my general spending throughout the week, which can only be a good thing.  Especially living in a city, it’s so easy to fritter away cash throughout the week.  A coffee here, a sandwich there – it all adds up.

We decided to do it for a second week, which I think is definitely a good idea because you might find you can freeze things or you bought slightly too much of something the first week and can eek things out a bit.  What I mean is, I found it easier the second week to spend less because I’d made some foolish mistakes the first week, like buying too many sausages.  Also we were all set for dishwasher tablets and nappies.

Also, my children surprised me by not minding at all about some of the changes that I thought they’d really notice.  Eg.  I bought a giant tub of cheap natural yogurt instead of exciting little munch bunch ones (other brands are available), and they are perfectly happy with that.  They are also, dare I write it, happy with bread and butter!

I was reminded on Sunday, hearing a talk on giving (coincidence?), that our main motivation for giving is the generosity of Christ.  “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9.)  We should always be giving sacrificially to the Lord, our of gratitude to Christ for all he’s given to us.  So this little food-shop challenge is an extra bit of giving in a crisis, but the ultimate motivation is still the same.  This is something else to chat to the children about – what a blessing it will be for them if they can grow up as cheerful givers.

 

“Food Shop” Challenge, Week One

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This week our family has spent less on food in order that we can send some money to those suffering famine East Africa (click here for the Tearfund appeal page).  It’s a pretty straightforward idea: we don’t really have spare cash lying around, so we need to go without some things in order to be able to give.  I know some people do things like live off £1 a day for 5 days, but when you’re feeding little ones that doesn’t seem like a very good idea.  It might not sounds like much, but our budget is tight already so it is a bit of a challenge, but definitely worth it.

There are several benefits, besides the fact that you’re able to help those suffering a famine:

  • It helps the children to have a global perspective, in their own little way.  As we eat our meals we can pray together for those in Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia.  We can pray that it will help them to have concern for people in other nations as they grow up.
  • It helps us all to see how rich we are.  I cut our grocery bill by a third (it would have been more, but we needed nappies and dishwasher tablets – I know, first world problems!), but we’re still eating well.  They won’t go hungry, that’s for sure.  They just won’t be as spoilt for choice.  “It’s Cornflakes or Cornflakes, peeps!”  Knowing we can live comfortably for less helps us see how much we have.  This in turn should make us thankful to God for all he gives us.
  • It’s challenged me to have more concern for the poor.  Last night we had a homeless man sleeping outside our flat.  On the way past him, Ezra said “I think that man is poor, like us.” This led to a long chat with him about what “poor” really means!  It does not mean, you can’t afford a birthday party at the local soft play, or you can’t afford a Chelsea (eek) football kit.  But as I was putting dinner on the table, I was challenged by the thought that Spike was sitting out there, cold and hungry.  By going without some treats so we could send money to Africa, were we really showing care for the poor, or was it just a token effort?  So Mike took him down some roast pork and veggies, which were much appreciated.  Would I have done this if we weren’t already focussing a bit on the poor this week?  Would Ezra have said anything?  I don’t know.  But I’m glad he did.

So that’s it really.  Hope you find it helpful or thought-provoking as an idea.  We’ll probably do it again next week – and hopefully we won’t need any expensive things like washing powder.  I’ve done this before – for Napal that time –  but my memory of it is blurry.  (Maybe I was pregnant?) Hopefully if we do it often enough, our children will see it as normal and it will give them a more healthy perspective on wealth and poverty.  You might think it’s nowhere near enough, but I think it’s one way we can help others and teach our children to be grateful to God for our food, rather than taking it for granted and rattling through “grace” without really meaning it.

If we do things like this, let’s do it cheerfully.  God loves a cheerful giver.  As Chauncy the Raccoon says, “Those who are generous are blessed when they share their bread with the poor.”