One Pink Toothbrush

Welcome to One Pink Toothbrush, where I will be posting moments from my days as a mum and as a wife. Funny moments, messy moments, thoughtful moments, teary moments.... and hopefully using each moment to see what God might be saying.



Saturday, 21 December 2013

'Tis the Season

So, 'Tis the season to be jolly, and 'tis the season to open little doors and eat little chocolates. Some mums or mums to be, may have replenished their Advent calendars due to much needed emergency chocolate moments. And no doubt some people forgot to buy any, but got the bonus of only having to pay half price for their 24 days of choccy-ness. 

Advent has of course been the countdown to the greatest story ever told. The countdown to the wonderful rescue plan for this world. It's the countdown to Jesus' birth. I love Christmas, and I love the build up to it. I love it when the husband gets in the festive mood and he puts the tree up. I love when the gingerbread houses get made and eaten. I love when The Muppet's Christmas Carol is on the tele, and you get to teach the kids about generosity and why a frog would marry a bossy pig. 



This year, one of the boys has woken up to an envelope under their pillow with the instructions of where to find the Advent Bag. In the bag has been a chocolate or a bubble gum for everyone, a family activity to do and a story to be read from 'The Jesus Story Book Bible'. Some of our advent ideas have come from Adriel Booker's blog.

I love The Jesus Story Book Bible. Its beautifully written, beautifully illustrated and each story beautifully whispers Jesus' name. I want my kids to be excited about Christmas for the right reasons, remembering what it is for. I don't want them just getting lost in presents and chocolate and tinsel. That's why we are reading stories about Jesus coming to save us all, every day. They can never be reminded of the wonderful truths of the Bible, too much.


As me or the husband read each morning, my five children sit wonderfully still and listen intently as I turn the pages. They absorb every word and I can tell their hearts are softly being changed as they quietly ponder on it all. Now you see, that isn't actually what it looks like at my breakfast table. I'm not sure if it's all children or if it's just my children, or if it's the number of children, but our family bible times, like most other times in this house can be a bit messy. Someone has a question, (sometimes about the bible, sometimes about Scooby Doo). Someone needs a wee. Someone can't see the picture. Someone spills their cereal. Someone looked at someone which upset them etc etc, and all this is happening as the school run time gets closer and closer.

I remember being greatly encouraged, about Bible reading with the kids, when I interviewed a mum who has nine children. (Mothering Many
"We read Scripture aloud together, which my husband was and is especially good about. He doesn't let squabbling, complaining, or fidgety kids keep it from happening.There were gaps of time when we were struggling or distracted, but every bit adds up, like drops filling up a bucket over time. Nothing good is wasted".

So we keep on keeping on with the Bible readings most mornings, knowing that nothing good is wasted. We stop and train them when we need to, we stop so they can go for a wee, we stop to clear up the cereal, and we try to allow for questions. We want them to know the importance of reading the Bible daily, of drinking it in every day, allowing it to affect the rest of their day, causing questions to arise and all the time drip drip dripping in that the whole Bible points to Jesus and His great love story. 


Sometimes its the only bit of Bible reading I get to do, or hear. And because it so simply and beautifully points to God's love for me, I am greatly encouraged by it and it makes me want to read it more. After all, the Bible is for life, not just for Christmas.





For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Mothering Across Cultures

Another post in the Mothering series, from a friend who is currently mothering in Japan.

Why did you move to Japan?
When Tom & I got married, God starting speaking to us about being willing to go to another nation, an 'unreached nation' to share the good news of Jesus and to build His church there. God called us more specifically to go to Japan in November 1999 and we eventually moved there in September 2004. At the time we had 2 children, who were aged 3 and 1. Now we have four children, Jess (12) Beth (10) Zanna (6) & Judah (1).

What were your hopes & fears for you and your children before moving to Japan?
We really believed that God was not just calling Tom & I, but calling us as family. We were so excited to be on an adventure with God as a family. We trusted God that if this was His perfect and pleasing will for us, then it was also His will for our kids. To be honest I didn’t have many fears about the children when we first moved to Japan and found moving with young kids a relatively easy transition to make. It has been as they’ve grown older that I’ve had to face challenges such as how to educate them, their friendship challenges and helping them work through feelings of not belonging or fitting in, and the repercussion of that in their lives. In many ways I have to trust God more for my kids now than when we first moved to Japan.

Do your children understand why you moved to Japan?
We have always talked openly with the kids about why we moved to Japan and that we believe this is God’s best for their lives too. We’ve also encouraged open channels of communication with the kids. If they ever felt resentful or unhappy about being in Japan then I wanted them to know that it’s ok to express that openly with us and God. It’s painful when your child feels anger towards you or blames you for their situation in life. We’ve had some challenging conversations with our kids, but actually God has used those conversations to help build stronger relationship between us and between them and God.

How long did it take you to feel 'at home'?
That is a difficult question to answer. The customs, the culture and the language are so different in Japan, that for the first few years I was constantly learning and feeling out of my depth. I would have been lost without the kindness of the Japanese people and their eagerness to help me. We have been here 8 years now and although I can call Japan home, there are still many situations when I’m acutely aware of being the foreigner. There are very few foreigners where we live and so I’m nearly always the only non-Japanese mum in my various communities. Despite a deep desire to belong, I’ve learnt over the years to be content with being a foreigner in this place I call home. 

What is hard about being a mum in a different country?
The thing I’ve missed and still miss the most is being able to hang out with other mums (particularly Christian mums) where I can chat in my own language. Although I have some really wonderful Japanese friends I do feel lonely at times.

It’s also been hard trying to understand the medical system; the doctor-patient relationship and the different vaccinations and medicines. I used to dread the kids being sick as I wouldn’t know which clinic to go to (it seemed like there was one for every body part) or whether I would be able to communicate with the doctor.

However, mums are mums wherever you live in the world so despite difference in language, culture and customs there is always an understanding between each other and instant things to chat about. Not many mums here work after having children ,so there are always plenty of mums to get to know.

What changes have you had to make?
I’ve had to learn to SEW! Help!! For pre-school and for school, the children need endless fabric bags for everything and they are all hand made. Japanese women are very proficient sewers and although not at all proficient, I can now make a very simple shoe bag and napkin to put their lunch box on!

What cultural differences have you had to adapt to?
The approach to bringing up children in Japan is very different to ours. I found myself being judgemental at first. It has challenged us to think carefully about how we bring up our children and whether it is based on Western values or biblical ones. For example when their children are young, Japanese families often sleep all together on futons in the same room. We have always put our kids to sleep in a separate room to us. When they hear this they feel sorry for our kids, they ask if they are safe or lonely. I wonder how they sleep or make love to their husbands with a baby in the bed. Both questions have validity. The bible is very clear about what is important when it comes to marriage and child rearing, but there is a lot left unsaid. Rather than getting caught up talking with Japanese mums about our different ways of doing things, I’m learning to spend time talking about what the Bible says is important. 

What do the children find hard about living in Japan?They don’t like it when strangers call out that they are so cute. They hate it even more if strangers ask to take their photos. They miss playing with other children who speak English and of course they wish they could see their grandparents and cousins more often. They often envy their friends who either have their grandparents living with them or see them a lot.

What do they like about Japan?
In many ways life in Japan is just so normal to them that they don’t think about what they like or don’t like. This is just their life. However they love Japanese rice. They miss it when we visit the UK. Some of them love the insect life here. There are so many and they are so BIG! We have Swallowtail butterflies every year in our little garden. They also love the Onsen; hot baths where everyone from baby to Grandma (of the same sex) soaks naked.

I love that Japan is so safe that the kids can play freely in the streets and the parks.

What have you learnt from living in a different country? 
That God loves the nations He has made. He really does love every people of the world and He really loves the Japanese. I’ve learnt that Jesus is the ultimate cross-cultural church planter. He went before us and I’ve learnt that there is nothing that I’m going through that He doesn’t understand. Every time I’ve poured out my heart to God about any challenge I’ve had about living and being a mother and church planter in Japan He has said exactly what I needed to hear. Sometimes what He has said is challenging to hear, but it strengthens my faith and enables me to keep pressing on. He is faithful to all His promises.

I’ve had to learn to depend more on others and God for help for many things. I’ve had to learn to be ok with making mistakes and getting it wrong. With cross-cultural church planting there is always so much potential for misunderstanding and mis-communication. I’ve had to learn to humble myself and be willing to understand things from another’s point of view and to say sorry a lot. I often have to apologise to the kids too when they turn up to school without something they need because I’ve misunderstood a letter.  

I am constantly amazed by our kids and how naturally they switch from the Japanese language and culture to English language and culture. I have sometimes questioned our decision to send them to Japanese school fearing they might feel alienated, but despite challenges they have flourished and are a blessing to their Japanese friends. As a mother, the desire to protect my children from pain and difficulties is strong. At times I’ve been aware of the huge impact that following God’s will, has had on their lives. Yet they seem to fly over these hurdles and their lives are a testimony that God’s plan for them (not mine) is the best.  

Do you think your children have missed out anything by living there?
Yes and no. Yes there are definitely things they have missed out on. Right now Jess & Beth have only one other female Christian friend around their age. I think about the vibrant youth works that I’ve seen in the UK and think about what they’re missing. However we have linked up with a church in another part of Japan that has a vibrant kids’ ministry and our church kids have been able to join their summer/spring camps. It is a journey of faith and I have to keep remembering that my kids belong to Jesus and to trust Him for them.

I said no because we do hang on to Jesus’ promise that “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” Matthew 19v29

What have they gained by living there?
They have gained so much by growing up in Japan, despite some very real loses. I’m confident that they’ll look back on their childhood and feel blessed. They are bilingual. They are culturally and socially sensitive kids, who can travel round the world with ease. They’ve also had the blessing of growing up in a very safe country where children stay children for longer. I’m very thankful for that.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Eating Your Feelings

Dinner time; What a minefield it can be...

Even getting to that moment where I call them all to the table, can be quite an adventure. There's the after school snack, which has to quench their immediate hunger, while not filling them up too much, so they still eat their actual dinner. There's the food preparation, which involves me not being in the room they are in. And my very absence from that room causes all sorts of disasters to happen. A similar reaction to when I am on the phone.  There's the daily attempt to make the right amount of pasta to fill up these hollow boys. There's also the balancing of when the husband said he'd be home and when he actually gets home. There's the tired child who can't eat after a certain time frame, because he turns into a slightly whinier zombie version of himself. There's usually a  hungry baby splashing around in the dishwasher at this point of the day. Then there is the sheer monotony of cooking similar foods, at the same time, every single day.

And that's the pre dinner fun. Once they have all got themselves to the table, there's the usual need for wees, the spilling of water, and there appears to be a tired zombie leaning on his brother, with glazed eyes. There's at least three voices trying to be heard, taking this moment to share something about their day. There's the loud 'I don't like it, before it is even tasted' comment. And when they are finally all sitting down, and I start to serve the now cold plates of food, the husband's key turns in the door and they all excitedly get up to greet him, usually knocking over the replenished drink and the zombie on their way, creating tears and mayhem. Sigh.

So occasionally, I try to adapt dinner in order to add a slice of variety. Or in order to save my sanity from yet another day in Pasta&Cheese land. This dinner was labelled 'How do you feel today?' They had to choose the dinner that summed up their day. As usual, they were encouraged to be selfless and let their brothers go first, with the knowledge that the tomato sauce could be adapted if needed.

One of my boys took the slightly sad dinner and talked about how hard his day had been.
I think the sad face actually sitting in front of them, enabled the other boys to listen well, and show empathy to him. (Empathy isn't always a natural characteristic in this house; it is one that needs training). We simply thanked God for the food He had provided, and one of the boys prayed for his brother. One of the other boys had got frustrated at school, so with my prompting, he took the angry face and we listened to him and prayed for him too.

Our Heavenly Father is so up for providing for every part of us. He blesses us with food, filling our physical hunger and He also blesses us with a place to talk about how we feel, filling a different kind of hunger. A hunger to be heard and understood and cared for. And of course we are only able to talk to Him about how we are feeling, because he fed our ultimate hunger, our ultimate need - forgiveness, when He died on the cross. We need to remember to come to Him with all our daily needs. I'm quick to tell others how I feel, before coming to God with it all. But He is constantly ready to hear just how I feel and He really does care about the answer; whether it comes with a cross face, a sad face, a grateful face or ketchup all over the place.

"He gives food to every creature. His love endures forever." Psalm 136v25
"He remembered us in our low estate. His love endures forever." Psalm 136 v23


(With my focus not on the ketchup, my youngest boy adapted his dinner, and said "I felt sick today, and I had bogeys". So glad he shared).

I may even suggest to the husband that I need to talk more about how I feel, and see how I can arrange some chocolate and wine on a plate...

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Mothering Mum

Earlier this year, I did a blog series on 'Mothering'; interviewing mums at their various stages of life and various stages of mothering. Some of those posts have taken a while to be added to the series. Here is one of them, from a friend of mine, who is caring for her own mother.

I'm not my Mum's mother, I want to hold her in high regard, respect her and protect her dignity. However, I do feel that some of the true mothering skills given to me by God, are probably used to their full when I’m caring for her.
 
I’ve developed skills, while caring for mum. Skills like compassion, listening, physical touch, warmth, giving time, being patient, meeting basic needs, advocating, encouragement, repeating things over and over again. All these things I'm meant to do with my own kids too. However, I'm more careful to exercise them with mum, and more acutely aware of them.  I recently had a job interview and one of my daughters helped me prepare. She spontaneously listed some of my strengths and abilities. “These are all the things I see in you in the way you are with nana”, she said.
 
This encouraged me greatly as it hasn't always been that way. My mum was finally diagnosed with Vascular Dementia with Alzheimer’s maybe two years ago. This has affected her memory and not her character which is a blessing. For the past four years, she has suffered with Lymphoma requiring Chemotherapy and frequent hospital visits. Just over a year ago, mum suffered a stroke leaving her with a dense right sided weakness and complete paralysis of her right arm. Where she used to be fully mobile, she is now confined to a chair/wheelchair and needs help transferring and with all her basic needs. 
The dementia diagnosis was difficult. We all knew it and she feared it. She got so upset that I had taken her to the memory clinic. She got very angry with me, asking if I thought she was mad, and if she was going to get locked away. It was a distressing time. I remember having to be straight with her. I talked to her about the effects on her brain which in no way reflected who she was or how we all felt about her. She needed constant reassurance.  During this time and the previous few years, she would ring me frequently. She was always apologetic and needing reassurance about tablets which she couldn't remember taking, or fears about missing hospital appointments or anxiety when she had lost something. A lot of the 'care' was done over the phone and was very repetitive - she would often ring minutes later forgetting she had called and we would have the same conversation, like ground hog day!

Surprisingly I often felt/feel very patient during these episodes but recognise that I didn't years beforehand. When I was in my teens/early twenties I recall getting very frustrated with mum when she couldn't remember things - I felt she wasn't in my world. Looking back I know that the Dementia was affecting mum. When I was a child, I recall watching a documentary with mum about Alzheimer's and she alluded to the fact she had fears this would happen to her as there were already memory problems.
 
I remember a poignant time when my dad became seriously ill with cancer and was admitted to hospital. Mum collapsed. I was staying to look after her overnight and found her unconscious in the bathroom, which was frightening. I was in my twenties and remember being acutely aware of the feeling that I had no-one to care for me. She needed caring for too now. It was a shocking time and I felt full of grief. It was like I was losing two parents.  There have been periods of grief all along, like longing for a grandparent to be there for my kids, potentially losing the family home and longing for emotional and practical support that just hasn't been there. The most recent sense of grief has been seeing my mother unable to walk anymore and adjusting to the fact she now needs everything doing for her. 

That's been hard. 

God showed me probably a year ago two things that were to change those longstanding feelings. One day, I was acutely aware of God having very large wings and I felt them covering me. I felt this represented a mother's love; He was meeting this need.  It made me feel secure. I was reminded of Psalm 91; hiding in the shadow of His wings and was also reminded of a time with one of my little girls. We saw a mother duck protecting her young ; we counted 14 little emerging ducklings which had been hiding under her wings. I felt God ask, "how big do you think my wings are in comparison to this little duck?" This was enormously comforting.
 
Serving my mum has at times taken up a lot of time.  My kids have found it hard when they've not had my full attention, particularly when I was paying regular hospital visits to mum several times a week.  My husband and I would 'tag team' it.  As soon as he got in from work I would leave.  We had quite a long period of time where we did not have a meal altogether.  I had to advocate for my mum when she did not get the best treatment and be a voice for her when she did not want to be put in a nursing home. We got the kids praying but sometimes I just wanted it all to stop. Ministry work took a back burner and I found myself saying 'no' to more. But at the same time, wondering if it was wrong spending so much time with mum, instead of serving church.

During this time I read James 1v27 which impacted and changed my thinking.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” I felt it was time to ‘put my religion into practice’.  In serving my mum, I was doing God's will and exercising His love for her. This has genuinely helped me feel joyful about having the privilege of being able to serve her at this stage of her life. I help her mainly emotionally with reassurance, with her medical needs and practically with housework.
 
My husband, kids and I are determined to help her enjoy herself by taking her out in the wheelchair for day trips. She enjoys these days even though she's often forgotten them the next day. But we all remember them and I believe this strengthens our family and increases the bond between us and her. Although this whole scenario isn't what I would have planned in my head (easy to romanticise what family should be/look like), I know this is a precious time and don't want to miss out on God's blessing on us and on her through it all. I have learnt a lot through my mum who has shown strength in so many ways during these seasons. She has a wicked sense of humour. My husband trying to manoeuvre her into the car, can be hilarious. She often ends up giggling so much we are unable to sit her up. She is so determined always to appreciate the little things in life that could just pass her by. She's amazing.
 
My relationship with my mum is tender and precious. Whilst I'm not responsible for all my mum's needs, I am put here by God to help meet some of them. It grows in love more and more all the time (both ways).  She says I light up her day and I say to her that I love her and love spending time with her. I'm grateful for this as we once were not able to communicate so well in that way. It's a blessing to be her daughter and I thank God for her input into my life.




Saturday, 16 November 2013

Mocha Moments

There was a moment last week, where the 'other pink toothbrush', had decided to start the day early. Maybe she wanted to check out the sun rise. Maybe she wanted some mummy time. Maybe she thought that I simply sleep too much. So she was up early, which meant she was a little grumpy as the morning wore on. Grumpy babies aren't always easy for us mums. A lot of the time, she just potters around while the four blue ones entertain her. But on this day, she wasn't pottering, she was sticking. Sticking like a grumpy, pink magnet on my hip for the whole morning, needing constant carrying.

Morning times in this household don't always ooze with calm and ease. Sometimes I'm organised and I do the lunches the night before, but the other four days of the school week, I don't. I wish I did. I wish I was that mum. We all know a version of her; 'The organised mum'. She's a wonder to behold. She's dressed in clean clothes, with washed hair. She probably got up early to pray and no doubt she's wearing matching underwear. She always knows if there is bread in the bread bin and fruit in the fruit bowl. 'Time' and 'Patience' are her best friends. I do love her. I'm happy not to be her however. I have other gifts and I'll roll with them. And I can wash my hair another day.

After the constant reminder of "teeth, shoes, jumper, teeth, shoes, jumper", I breathed a sigh of relief as we finally bundled out of the front door. I knew that my grumpy little red head would rest her eyes as we walked to school. And therefore I had a plan. I would drop the blue ones off to their various classrooms, and then I would pop over to The Hub; (a community cafe next door to the school), and I would drink a Cherry Mocha. Mmm... And as she slept for an hour, I would breathe, and think and write in my prayer journal, and take the time to connect with God. That is what I needed after my busy morning.

So we walked to school; they swung on branches, ran ahead, dragged on the buggy, hid behind the same wall that they hide behind every single day. They stopped to talk to a cat. I shouted out to avoid the dog poo. They shoved their brothers, which made them laugh. They shoved their brothers, which made them cry. They were all dropped off and I headed to The Hub. The pink bundle was still and quiet, so I ordered my Mocha, sat down and got my notebook out and breathed.
But then she looked at me, spat her dummy out, arched her back and carried on her grumpiness. Grrrrrr!!!! She had not followed the plan. And now I couldn't talk to God with my free, spare hour. As grumpy as I was starting to feel, I knew I had a window. I knew I had a ham sandwich in my bag, and therefore I had about three minutes to breath, think and write as she ate it. Not quite the planned hour, but I wrote in my journal and I felt God remind me that the 'hour planned' wasn't my real life, and that He had plenty of time for me, all the time, right in the middle of my real life. 
 
He reminded me that He had been there, ready to listen in the dark, cold hours of the morning. He had been there on the crazy that is the school run, and He was with me now. But the 'now' bit, the quiet bit, wasn't necessarily the bit where I needed His presence the most. I needed to come to Him when they couldn't find their shoes, when they couldn't find their teeth (it's another story) and when the pink one needed carrying. I need Him to carry me, right in the middle of it all, as well as enjoy Him in the Mocha moments. 

"...And Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age".
Matthew 28v20

Monday, 14 October 2013

Status Update

I love a bargain. I always have a scout round the reduced aisle and see what I can make a meal out of. My mother has taught me well. I particularly love when it's cereal - perfectly fine just in a dented box. The husband always knows when I serve him something expensive, that I'm secretly proud of myself, for spending very little on the product. Sure it may have an extra fizz to it, or smell a little whiffy, but hey it was cheap, so bring on the Great Asda bake off.

I recently found fish and mash potato sea shapes on offer in the frozen aisle. IN THE FROZEN AISLE! I mean, that doesn't even need cooking on the day of purchase. Such a result for this mum and her budget. I may have emptied the little section of 50p bargains. Those and some ice lollies for 25p. Therefore my little treasures have had a few 'sea shape meals' over the last couple of weeks. I got to five meals before one of the boys asked why this was all they eat now.

I decided to ramp up the meal on my last use of the sea shapes, with an actual seaside scene. I washed and Dettol-ed some buckets, spades and the kitchen table. I made some couscous sandcastles. I covered the table in dry couscous and added sweetcorn and pasta for a sand effect. Finally, I tipped the sea shapes on top. Voila! I called the boys in and they just starred for a moment, before getting a spade and digging in. They're not shocked by me anymore, it seems.
 

This was definitely one of those good mummy moments. You know, the kind of moments where you're happy to whip the phone out and take a picture of what's happening, and post it for the world to see. I often do that, (I hope I'm not the only one) I share the things that show the positive, happy moments that I have with my kids. And I'm thankful that there are many. I do think it's good to celebrate these things with other mums. I love seeing what other mums have done with their kids, because there was a moment captured, a moment enjoyed, a moment to smile about with that mum. But the reality is, that a lot of my life as a mum, is either mundane or difficult and usually not worth a public share or a 'like'.

The thing is, I don't tell my virtual friends when I'm stressed, angry or sad, I tell my real ones. This can however, lead to a one-sided view of my life on social media, which isn't always healthy. (Although neither is grumbling for the world to see). But I did think about what my updates would look like if I showed all aspects of my life. I'd be taking photos of a child running off, a red tantrummed face or two, definitely a weekly fighting picture, some naked bottoms, a playground strop, a child gagging on their dinner, and for last week, I'd have to add a status which said, "Today I shouted at my children and as they burst out crying, I had a go at them for that too, then I stormed out and slammed doors." #mummylosestheplot  #mummycallsdaddy #mummysayssorry


 
When it comes to relating to God, I mustn't treat Him as one of my Facebook friends. I must be real and honest with Him; sharing my good mummy moments with Him, but also the sin in my life, the hidden stuff which I would never want to post about. He is much more personal with me. He doesn't just 'like' or 'dislike' something I do or say. He knows that all my words, actions and even social posts either give Him glory or grieve His heart. He is passionate and wants an intimate relationship with me. He is happy to share couscous sandcastles with me, but if this is all I share with Him, then I am missing out on some of the best parts of my relationship with Him.
In 1 John 1 it says that, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."




 

Saturday, 21 September 2013

iBroke

A couple of years ago a friend generously bought me an iPad for my birthday. She wanted to read more about the 'ol pink toothbrush, and therefore she said I needed to write more. I'll never forget the husband's face as I unwrapped it, and he was quick to appreciate the "what's mine is yours" part of married life. My iPad has been a wonderful source of entertainment for the family. The boys have found village building games, battle games, and running quickly games. Games with birds dressed as Star Wars characters and games with clans who clash. They're all the same game but with different characters as far as this mum can see. We've added some maths games and a copy of Warhorse, because boys do seem to love combining the technical side of life with learning. And then there's the husband's 'Garage Band', where he can live out his youth by pretending he's in a band called No Direction or Undecided or something similar. He plays every instrument in the band; such talent.

The iPad has also been a great training tool. We've used it to teach about time wasting, priorities and idols. As well as the classic lesson "Screens do not mean you can ignore your family". The iPad is regularly used to teach selflessness, rather than taking turns. We tend not to go for 'fair' in this house. Instead we remind the little people about Jesus' selfless love, and how the cross wasn't fair, but tipped heavily in our favour. However, the iPad's biggest training ground was for me and the husband.

As the family arrived home in the car, one of the boys asked if they could carry the iPad in. The husband explained that they could, but they were to hold it tightly and not run with it. As we walked towards the house, we saw said child running with the iPad, tripping with the iPad, and dropping the iPad.

We scrunched up our eyes, hoping to turn back time, but we both knew. We just knew, as we watched the iPad slide along the concrete. That beautiful smooth screen was now shattered into a hundred tiny pieces. A spontaneous double yell of  "Get to your room" was heard all down the street, as we silently entered the house. The husband was due to go out, but he couldn't leave the child up in his room, wondering if he had a future.

So after a calming down period, the husband went upstairs and spoke to the child in question. The child was very remorseful, very apologetic and knew that he had done wrong. Of course, it was the disobedience which needed addressing. The iPad's demise was a consequence of disobedience. The husband dealt with the incident, while I nursed the poorly iPad in the kitchen. When the husband came back downstairs, he explained to me that our son was still alive and that he had not simply said sorry to his dad, but that he had truly repented. His dad forgave him. The boy had hugged him, smiled and walked away.

We both realised that we were miffed at how freely our son had walked away. We wanted him to be more guilt ridden, to have his tail between his legs, to dwell more on his sin, for it to affect him longer. God spoke to us in that moment. The iPad was still broken, and there would be a cost to fix it. But the sin had been dealt with, the boy had said sorry and his father had forgiven him. And that's really how it is with us. Our sin and its consequences have caused us to be broken, and it cost Jesus His life to fix it. But when we come to Him truly repentant, He is quick to forgive, and we can walk away guilt free, secure in the father's unconditional love.

It's taken a while to blog about this one, because it just seemed so unfair that our boy was so free from the incident after he'd been forgiven. But we tend not to go for 'fair' in this house. Instead, as well as reminding the little people, we remind the big people about Jesus' selfless love, and how the cross wasn't fair, but tipped heavily in our favour.

"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." 2 Corinthians 5v21

Thursday, 19 September 2013

All Day Long

Wow my last post was a month ago, what's that about? Ah yes, it was August. A time for laying in, staying in pyjamas, lazy DVD days, doing 'whatever we please whenever we please' days and generally just chilling out. Plus of course, the actual reality of 6 weeks with all 5 kids, all day, every day, from sun rise to sun set, every minute of every hour...

It's a funny mix, the summer holidays. I love not being in a routine. I'm never late anywhere, because there is no where to be. I love just letting the kids play and eat freely, while still being in my pyjamas, (and if possible, still under a duvet). I love playing with them and seeing them and hearing them, and just them being around me all day long. But the other side to it, is that I see them and hear them all day long. They're around me all day long. Like ALL day long. They need food all day long, they need entertaining all day long, they need a mediator, an arts and crafts specialist, a Lego builder, a trainer, a bottom wiper, a chef, an activities coordinator, a law enforcement officer, a tone changer, a friend, a listener, a perspective changer, a teacher, a hugger... all day long.
In a nutshell, they need me all day long.

They don't seem to get the 'August memo', that us mums can just take a break. No more uniforms to wash, book bags to go through, newsletters to read, lunch boxes to empty, reading books to slowly and painfully sit through. No more Chip or Biff or Kipper! No more homework or school runs or time restraints. Just a nice relaxing month or so off....

Older, wiser mums say things like 'it goes so quickly' and 'you can't get that time back' and 'they're only little for a short time'. Us younger, 'not so wise yet' mums think August itself is the slowest month in history and the little ones have been little forever, and life as we know it, will never change. We will learn I'm sure, and we in time will hear ourselves imparting that same wisdom to mums who can't quite take it on board yet..

 
It seems you can't quite take the month off from the privilege of being a mum. There they are every day, all day long. They come with their wants and needs and delights and conversations. With their questions and heartaches, and curiosity and repetitiveness. With their joys and disappointments. With their squabbles and achievements. With their grazes and in this house, with their woodlice. And yes they need me all day long. It's what I'm here for.  


Of course, there's the realisation that I need my Heavenly Father all day long too. I need Him all the time, every day. He doesn't tire of me or take time off from loving me. He loves seeing me and hearing me all day long. He loves just being around me. He's waiting to hear my questions, my heartaches, my disappointments, my joys and my squabbles. He'd be totally engaged if I wanted to show Him a woodlouse. And He's also ready and waiting to give me the strength and grace I need to do this mothering malarky all day long, every day, from sun rise to sun set, every minute of every hour...

"I can do all this through him who gives me strength."
Philippians 4v13

"The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
 He fulfils the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them."

Psalm 145v18-19

Thursday, 15 August 2013

4am

Sometimes it's 4am and you find yourself awake. Awake, giving out Calpol to the one who hurt his arm and knee in two spectacular falls today, and a midnight treat combination of Calpol, milk and cuddles for the littlest snuffly one. And yes you're tired and yes you're working out how many minutes you've got left on your pillow before either the sun comes up or the sons get up, but you're also very grateful.

Right now, that's me. I'm grateful. Grateful that my house is full of sleeping children. And grateful that my bed holds a sleeping husband. Grateful that I have a bed, and grateful that my tummy is full (although a midnight cereal treat for myself might just add to the gratefulness). Grateful for this big messy house. And grateful for a loving Heavenly Father who would bless me with all these things.

It's not even been one of those days where you view the world through rose-tinted glasses; the days where everything goes well - when there's healthy food in the house, love in the house, creative activities or even self initiating homework in the house and of course peace and harmony in the house. (I've heard these days exist). It's been a day of all the usual joys of motherhood; tantrums, discipline, poo seeping through vests, Calpol, grazed elbows, baby eating unknown items, only one child bathed, wiping bottoms, tears, laughter, discipline, eating dry cereal, hurtful words, hugs, iPad arguments, woodlice, dinosaurs, superheros, mum doing well, and mum doing badly moments. It's been hard work today, relentless heart training and tone correcting (mine as well as theirs). And a game of Snakes & Ladders which I genuinely thought would never end and would have rather given the kids money than carry on playing!

But for some reason, at 4am, I'm just simply so grateful. I'm mindful of my friends who would love to be up at this time, cuddling pink bundles or comforting wounded blue ones. I'm mindful of my friends who would love to have a sleeping, slightly snoring spouse, in their bed, taking far too much of the duvet. And I'm mindful of my friends who are going through life and don't know what it is to have God's love and His complete, wonderful forgiveness. I'm mindful of my friends who haven't found a friend in Jesus and haven't been blown away by what He did for them on the cross.

"Rejoice always,  pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus". 1 Thessalonians 5v16-18

Heavenly Father, thank you. Thank you that I know your love and forgiveness. Thank you for your son and all He did for me, by dying on the cross. Thank you for the husband. Thank you for one, two, three, four and five. Just thank you x

Saturday, 27 July 2013

School Report; Could Try Harder

Drawing near to the end of term, not only brings on severe cases of End-of-Term-Itis, it also brings the delight that is 'Non-Competitive Sport's Day', teacher present buying and of course school reports. Sport's day; I just won't comment on, apart from to say that I jolly well cheered hard for my son as he didn't compete against anyone. Teacher present buying; I sent the kids into school as spies on a mission. They had to find out what their teachers and teaching assistants liked, but in a more subtle way than "What do you want my mum to buy you?" Restaurant vouchers, clothes vouchers, posh chocolate and alcohol seemed to cover everyone. 

And then there's the school reports and final chats with the teachers. You kind of want to stroke the teachers, say 'Well Done' to them, get them a duvet and let them sit in a darkened room somewhere. But instead you ask them to explain what the numbers and letters mean and how well your child has done and what they could improve on. You have to be able to read 'Teacher Code', when analysing the reports. Knowing my dear boys, I add my own interpretations when I read "lively and outgoing", "a great sense of humour" and "contributes well with regard to Christianity and sharing his own experiences".

There are joys too, when I read 'personable', 'shows respect', 'polite', and 'team player', as I know that some of that is down to training. You know, the every day stuff that you train and train and train and train, until eventually it shows up on a school report or even better 'out in public'. They need to work harder at some things, especially the dull old details of spelling and punctuation, and a little less silliness here and there. There's always ways for them to improve their learning and there's things to congratulate them on.

I asked the boys to do me a school report; how well I've done this term as a mum. A brave and stupid task. I didn't bribe them with snacks as they answered. But I was in a relatively stable emotional state as I listened at the door. Apparently I'm doing well at 'serving my husband and children, making meals, disaplining (Okay, so the teacher may be right about the spelling) and being a mum'. I can live with that. But apparently I do need to 'shout less and work on my gentleness, and self-control'. Ha ha how perceptive these little people are. Can't keep much from them. A fair assessment I'd say.

We had a good chat about the reports. I explained that I was just as interested in the character bits as much as the results and grading. Got to love working on the 'heart stuff'. And we spoke about God's view of us; how we were His enemies; evil sinners who were far away from Him. And how He loved us when we were like that, and how Jesus' death on the cross meant that we can now be His adopted sons and daughters and come close to Him.

We chatted too, about how perfect our Heavenly Father is compared to us. He doesn't need to work on His self-control or silliness. He doesn't shout at us and I reckon His spelling is outstanding too. There is always going to be heart stuff for God to work on in us. He wants us to be more like Jesus and live more of a life of worship to Him. One day we will all have to stand before Him as He reads every detail of our report to us. Gulp! And then He will accept us in or turn us away, based on whether we accepted Jesus' and lived for Him, or not. It's good to ask Him what areas He'd like us to glorify Him in more. Thankfully though, He never writes 'Could Try Harder' over us. Instead in His grace, He writes over our reports, in blood-red letters, 'Accepted', 'Redeemed', 'Restored' and 'Forgiven'. That's surely one to frame and tell everyone about!

"Blessed are those
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered."

Romans 4v7                                        

"A person may think their own ways are right,
but the Lord weighs the heart.


 To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice." Proverbs 21v2-3

Monday, 22 July 2013

End-of-Term-Itis

Looking at my latest blog entry, I see that it was quite some time ago. I could happily sit here and tell you that's it's because I've been busy with life; the kids, the husband, the friends, the church etc. I could say I've been so busy loving all the above people that I couldn't possibly prise myself away from the fun and training and imparting, in order to write. But that would be what we call a lie.

Two of the boys have come down heavily with a dose of  end-of-term-itis; they're not just tired, they are beyond tired. And they are hot and sweaty and grubby and tearful and cross and fed up and overwhelmed and over emotional, and I totally get where they are coming from! I can relate to this terrible disease. It's one that really knocks you down, and vitamins don't shift it, just long periods of sleep, which is hard to come by these days. When a mum is suffering with end-of-term-itis, and she comes into contact with two little people suffering from it too, it's not a pretty sight. So my parenting game plan has been on the defensive; 'react to what they're doing and just try to survive the match'. Somewhere over the last few weeks, I have forgotten that my job is to love them and train them, and I have re written my job description as 'Just get through 'til bedtime'. I've been scared to parent them, knowing that they are just going to kick off and walk away from me or they're going to burst out crying. Or I am.

Now I know that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. But knowing it and living in the truth of it are two different things. I haven't been coming to Him in the kind of way which seeks Him, and spends time with Him and reads His word, or even just falls on Him humbly, sincerely asking for help. For some reason, I have decided that I can tackle this end-of-term-itis without God's help. Tackling anything with a strong burst of pride, is never going to cure anything. I just know I can't do the parenting, the wife-ing and the serving, without walking closely with Jesus. And I can't blog either. I can't write about grace when Im not living in it.

Last Tuesday, I had one of those 'sob-in-your-breakfast-bowl-I-can't-do-this-anymore' moments in front of the family. They graciously prayed for me, and then the husband left for Berlin for a few days. (Ha ha ha...silently rock in a darkened room). It was then that end-of-term-itis was either going to wipe this whole family out, and the husband was going to come home to a mess, or this mum was going to ask God to coach her, and change the parenting game plan to being on the offensive; 'plan beforehand and win this match', which mainly involved prayer, and water balloons. And of course, He did coach me. But more importantly I remembered that He also substituted Himself for me, and that it is by His grace I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Psalm 145 has been my friend during end-of-term-itis. Remembering what my coach is like, has helped me play the parenting game much better. 

 "The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, Slow to anger and great in mercy. The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works. The Lord upholds all who fall, and raises up all who are bowed down." Psalm 145v8,9,14

Sunday, 30 June 2013

May The Force Be With You

One of my boys was feeling a little melancholy the other evening. He had had a couple of days off from school, due to being sick and running a high temperature, and he was feeling nervous to go back. He couldn't quite explain his thoughts or feelings, he just felt a bit sad and teary and his head was full of sad thinking. He has felt like this before, where his mind has doubted our love, and it all just 'feels sad', even though he's actually pretty secure in our love for him. How often do I doubt my Father in Heaven's love, without reason to?

So we have a new strategy when his thoughts are a bit negative and glum; we've combined the wisdom of The Bible with the imagery of Star Wars, as you do. After all, his name is an Old Testament prophet and a Jedi Knight....The force is strong with this one!

We looked at the second part of 2 Corinthians 10v5;
"We pull down every proud obstacle that is raised against the knowledge of God; we take every thought captive and make it obey Christ".
 

To take something captive, suggests that it is an actual 'action' we need to do, not just something which happens. So we wondered where we could lock these negative thoughts up; where there was a good prison. And we decided that Jabba the Hutt's palace was a good place to keep something locked up. So that's what we do, we grab each of these untrue thoughts and we shove them in Jabba's captivity.
 
The funny element tends to help break him out of his melancholy. And it helps our very visual boy, see these thoughts being locked up. Now I'm aware that this verse is actually about Paul defending God and the arguments which were being raised against Him, and I have explained this to my son. He has a few friends at school who don't think God is real, so he does know what this verse means. But I think it is important to train him to take both kinds of thoughts captive.
 
We then encourage our boy to fill his mind with things "which are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honourable" as it suggests in Philippians 4. In other words, we encourage him to think about God before he sleeps, to think about all the good things God has done for him and how much God loves him, and we pray for God's help. I needed to do this myself this week. I found myself dwelling in untruths, and I was left feeling glum and full of self pity as a result. So I wrote a page of Truths about God in my journal; He is my hiding place, my strength, my refuge etc and it helped shift my thoughts off of me and back to my Heavenly Father's love, Jesus' victory on the cross, and the awesome power of the Holy Spirit at work in me, which afterall, is always going to be the best Force to have with me.
See what I did there?! 

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

You Are So Annoying

I was blown away by Charlie yesterday. He was ever so selfless, over and over again, when frankly his little sister just didn't deserve it. I was impressed with how he didn't tire of it, apart from the odd eye raise. I guess it might be easier to be consistently selfless when you're a cartoon. You see, Lola, the little sister, spent all her money at the Zoo. She also ate all her lunch and she used all the film on her camera. But her big brother Charlie helped her out. He gave her some of his lunch, he let her use his camera and he bought her a cuddly seal at the zoo shop, even though it meant he couldn't get the book he had been saving for.

Of course, my boys knew that they weren't going to get away with just watching it, without a little 'voice over teaching point' from mum. I pointed out what I could see happening, and they nodded, either to humour me or because the 'selfless' thing is one we plug a lot in this family. Towards the end of the programme, Lola had learnt from her brother's example. She ended up saving her money and giving it to Charlie, who was able to buy an even better book for himself. I spoke to the bigger boys about how they can be an example for their younger brothers to copy. And I acknowledged that younger siblings can be annoying, like Lola was. I  seem to remember poking my big brother constantly until he would whip me with a wet tea towel, and then get in trouble for it. Younger siblings just help people grow in love and patience!

After watching it, one of the younger siblings explained that he felt his older brothers didn't love him much because they don't give him a lot of time. I asked his older brothers how they could respond to this. One of them took the teaching point and put it into practise. The other one ignored the whole thing to the point where I'm not even sure he knows he has brothers. Anyway, off they went upstairs to play together. I encouraged the older one, reminding him that he was imitating Jesus, not just Charlie; that Jesus is the most selfless person there is. That He gave up His own life for us. He got it. Point made.

A few minutes in and the younger sibling sought to test his older brother's newly found kindness. I heard shouts of "No, no, please don't touch that bit of Lego, please, NO NO. Ggggrrrrr, YOU ARE SO ANNOYING". As I got upstairs, I found a cross older one and a smug smaller one, with broken up Lego in his hand. The moment was over. I understood the older one's frustration, and told him so. I released him from playing with his brother and told him that it's hard to be selfless all the time, but it is how Jesus wants us to be. I missed a trick though, and didn't mention that it's the Holy Spirit who helps us to imitate Jesus. It's the Holy Spirit that helps us to love annoying siblings too. I wonder in this house of five children, if there will be another opportunity to talk through 'being selfless'? Yeah I reckon so....

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others."
Philippians 2v3-4

"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness...."
Romans 8v26

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Father's Day

So today is Father's Day; a day to celebrate fathers. For some, this day brings joy and fun and thankfulness. But for others, it's either not relevant or it's painful in some way. Maybe dad wasn't great, or he's unknown. Maybe he left. Maybe he was never around. Maybe he never cared. Or maybe it's harder than anyone can ever imagine! Maybe dad was wonderful, but he died too soon, and he's missed every day, not just today. Maybe for some mums, they're so busy bringing up their kids alone, that Father's Day is a bit of a joke to them. And then there are those who would love to be a father or once were, and those who father alone.

For me, I am grateful for a dad who loves me now and cared for me, as a child. When the midwife saw my dad 'still' cuddling me, she told him he was going to spoil me, and his reply was that he fully intended to. I was his 'little peanut'. To my mum's dismay, he used to push me far too high on the swings. He taught me to drive and came and rescued me when I ran out of petrol, again and again. He used to walk me to the Off License on a Friday night for a packet of m&ms. He made me the perfect bacon sarnies. He helped me plan for a trip to Uganda, without telling mum. (That's another story!) He took me to my first football match, well it was QPR, but close enough and he bought me my first VW Beetle. He walked me down the aisle. And he continues to father me, whilst being a crazy grandad to my children. My slightly sarcastic tone of humour, and the ability to find the funny side of things in most situations is from him too and also my secret love for The Travelling Wilburys, but don't tell the husband.

Now I actually forgot to get my dad a Father's Day card. How bad is that? Thankfully, he is on holiday so by the time I buy a reduced one tomorrow and send it off, he will never know it was late! He definitely deserves to get a card, a small gesture of thanks. I guess I'm so secure in His love for me, that I probably take him, and my mum for granted. And what about my Heavenly Father, does he deserve a reduced card thanking Him for all He has done for me? Or does He deserve so much more? There is no amount of praise and worship that I could bestow on Him, that would be considered enough. What He has done for me and given me, is amazing; His love, His grace, His forgiveness, His mercy, my name in His book of life, an eternal heritage, His adoption of me, His joy, His strength. The list goes on and on. And although I'm thankful to my dad for all he has done for me, it actually pails into insignificance when I look at what Abba Father has done for me.

Wonderfully, this amazing fathering isn't just for me. It's for those who never had a dad, or those who had a lousy dad or those whose dad walked out on them or their kids. Even the amazing dads, the ones who love and care, their love still falls a million miles short of the steadfast love of God, and that is worth my thanks and praise.
 
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
Psalm 103v11-13