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.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Mothering the Prodigal Son

It's Easter Sunday; the perfect day to read a testimony of God's Amazing Grace, while nibbling at a choccy egg or two. May I introduce to you a wonderful lady as she shares her story about 'Mothering the Prodigal Son'. (With his permission). It is the 14th post in the Mothering series, and is a hard but brilliant story of Redemption. Happy Easter.

How many kids do you have? What are their ages?
Two children, Adam aged 26 and Francesca aged 21

Were your kids raised in a Christian household? 
I became a Christian when Adam was aged about two but I had a period of drifting and backsliding, so it was eventually a Christian household! As a family we attended Stoneleigh Bible Week for a number of years which drew us into the Church of Christ the King community, and subsequently Newday (a Christian Youth event) which all of us have been involved with over the years. Both children gave their lives to God at an early age.

When did you notice Adam drifting from that committment to God? 
During Adam's late teens he became cynical and disconnected. This was at a time when his closest friends left for university or joined the forces leaving him without the peer group that he had grown up with. He then found new friendships through the work place which at the time were different and exciting. I think he took his Christian values into the friendships expecting them to be reciprocated but they were not, not in the way that he expected. He had developed a loyalty to them. He changed in order to survive this new life.

What did this new life look like for Adam? 
Initially it was pubs, clubs, girls and we later found out drugs. This resulted in Adam moving out of our home, of his own accord and moving into the home of friends in the church. His actions gave the impression that he was rejecting both God and us which was confusing as he wanted the security of living in another church family home with the same values and rules. As a mother, there was part relief that he had moved out as I did not have to continually witness his actions on a day to day basis. I remember one day, looking at Adam and saying “I have never had a son or been a mum before, this is all new to me." My heart ached so much at the time, it was as if something had ripped my insides out.

How did you and Nigel react to Adam's drifting away? 
I spent many hours crying; once I started it was very hard to get me to stop. I was also angry with Adam and in a way with God too. How could He let this happen to my once beautiful blond, full of life, baby boy? Nigel and I acted very differently, I'd cry and be very restless and he would be very pragmatic holding it together for me and Frankie, but he also had moments of anger and frustration.
At times all I wanted Nigel to do was to hold Adam up against the wall and give him a good hiding to knock some sense into him. (I'd like to stress that I am not actually a violent person!) I made an effort to see Adam although it usually hurt me. I'd try and chat with him over the phone or meet with him in town to keep the communication between us going. Nigel kept in contact by text, many of which were not responded to. We made a point of being consistent in our messages of our love to him.

What were your worries and fears in it all?
There were many, especially in the middle of the night; Would he end up in prison? Would he be found somewhere in a pool of blood? How much further was this journey going to take him away from God and from us? 

How did you feel as Adam's mum?
As a mum I felt rubbish, a failure, distraught. I felt that I had lost my son but had no grave to visit.

Did you blame yourself? Did you feel judged about it?
Being a mum, you always blame yourself. Should I have done this? Should I have done that? I was surrounded by very supportive and understanding friends who I knew were in it with me for the long term. The devil whispered lies and it is easy to see other families as 'perfect' so you can feel judged even though nothing is said and they only have love and compassion for you. 

How did you pray for Adam?
Together, Nigel and I prayed for Adam every day that he would be reminded of the prophetic words and truths spoken over him over the years. I prayed this verse in the middle of the night many a time.  "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." 
Philippians 4 v 6. 
I was encouraged a few years later when Keith Hazell, a man with a prophetic gift, spoke to Nigel and I about having a prodigal son who would return to God and that there would be a time of great restoration. We held onto this for many years.

Did you talk to Adam about it all?
God and church were not subjects that Adam would tolerate in a discussion, but other people had told him about this prophetic word which just seemed to antagonise him.

Were you able to show him love still?
Absolutely, even when I did not like what he was doing I never stopped loving him. I showed this by keeping in touch and trying not to be judgemental. 
Truly unconditional love.

What was the hardest part of it all?
There was one night when Adam ended up in Tunbridge Wells hospital with chest pains. Adam did not tell us about it, but the friends that he had been living with, phoned us. We went straight to the hospital arriving at about 11:00pm. We were told that they had found a shadow on his lungs. When we visited his bed side he did not want to speak to us. It was heartbreaking. Definitely an evening I will never forget. He was like a total stranger. 

What did you learn through this time?
I realised that I could not battle on in my own strength. I was exhausted emotionally and physically. The best thing I ever did was to surrender all responsibility for Adam to God and to let God have His way with him, trusting God's timing. Effectively I acknowledged that Adam was not mine but God's and that I may not see his restoration in my lifetime. This was an immense weight off my shoulders.
Nigel and I grew stronger as a couple and we found great strength together being able to share our own experiences as we walked alongside other couples going through similar situations. 

When did things start to change? 
Adam and a friend from church started travelling to work together which resulted in them spending a number of hours each day talking. This friend was able to have conversations with Adam, which as his mum, I just couldn't. This resulted in him breaking off an engagement and turning up at the church men's weekend. Adam was impacted by the guest speaker and felt that every talk was directed at him. God really did do a job on Adam! Guys that he thought did not care about him openly welcomed him, and shared how, for many years, they had prayed for him. This totally blew him away. One of the great things that I noticed was that after this weekend the eyes that had been dead for many years were now full of life. 

Have you spoken about it all with him? Has there been reconcilliation?
We have never needed to talk in depth about it, a hug from Adam speaks for itself. His gentle heart is so apparent. Adam's values and foundations are now firmly planted in God, we were especially aware of this as we watched him step up, pursue, lead in a relationship and become a married man last year. 

During his wedding speech he totally honoured both myself and Nigel and thanked us for putting up with him even during the rubbish times.
I came away from the wedding feeling totally elated and secure knowing that my son had now been launched into a new phase of his life with God at the centre.

Would you have done anything differently?

Nothing, it was part of my journey in God, as well as Adam's.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Mothering Alone

This is an interview with a single mum, and is the thirteenth post in the Mothering series.

How did you come to be 'Mothering Alone'?
I was 18 when I found out I was pregnant. I had just finished my A-Level exams and had applied to a couple of universities to study Art and Psychology, so becoming a mum was the last thing on my mind. I had broken up with my boyfriend a few days before finding out I was expecting so the news came as a shock to him too. He made it very clear from the start that he wasn’t ready to be a father, that he wasn’t prepared to accept any responsibility for this child and strongly suggested a termination. I could see the sense in what he was saying; we were both young, I was planning to go to university, we had our whole lives ahead of us, why throw it all away now? My heart was telling me something else. I chose to keep my baby; it wasn’t his fault I had gotten into this situation and it was time I faced up to the consequences of my actions. 

What were your fears&worries when you found out you were pregnant?
I was still living at home, so I had my mum and brother to consider in all this. They were both supportive but I had also caused them a lot of worry. I knew that I could carry on living with my mum for as long as I needed to but the time to fly the nest would soon come. I think the thing that worried me the most was ‘the unknown’. Nobody knew what the future would hold or what kind of a mother I would be. I got the impression everybody expected me to fail which was something I found hard to ignore. I didn’t know where I was going to live or how I would support myself and a child financially. I had only worked summer jobs so I wasn’t entitled to any maternity pay and the thought of doing all this on my own was really scary. It was hard work trying to find out what benefits I would be entitled to and when I would be eligible. I had to sign on with the job centre (knowing that no-one would give a 3 month pregnant teenager a job) because state maternity pay didn’t start until 11 weeks before my due date. And on top of all this, I didn’t know anything about babies and had never held a baby let alone changed a nappy!

Have you had support and/or judgement as you've mothered alone? 
People that don’t know me or the circumstances of my situation are the most judgemental. I look younger than my years and people are shocked when it comes out in conversation that I have a child, even more so now that Ben is in his teens and taller than me. It is hard listening to what the media says about teen parents and people on benefits, people can be a bit thoughtless sometimes when it comes to sharing their own opinion. To the government I am a statistic and to the average Joe I am a lazy sponger on welfare, using up their hard earned tax payments.  After the initial shock my family has been my biggest support. They have always made themselves available for babysitting, days out, honest advice (sometimes too honest) and they love Ben unconditionally.

What's been the hardest thing about mothering alone? 
Being alone. I have always believed that a child should have a mother and a father. This is how God intended family to be and to remove one of these elements is to upset the balance. I have had to make decisions on my own and I haven’t always made the right decision. When things go wrong there is no-one there with you to help put things right. We are made for companionship and community and being alone creates a hole which is hard to fill. I would long for a husband, for a protector, for a father for my son. Loneliness is a hard thing to live with, and if these deep rooted longings are not kept in check, it can lead to depression, bitterness and self loathing. This is a dark place to be and best avoided wherever possible. It is not easy at the end of the day when the house is quiet and you have the whole evening of your own company ahead of you.  Another difficulty I’ve had to face is pride. We all need to ask for help from time to time but pride can often prevent us from doing this. I think this is something many people can relate to, not just single parents.

How has your walk with God been over the years of being a mum?  
Ben was 4 months old when I made the decision to follow Christ. In some ways I feel that Ben was my saving grace. I had hit rock bottom. I was an empty shell ready to be filled with God's love and compassion. It took along time to understand and accept Gods unconditional love. I had been let down too many times before and part of me expected God to walk away at any moment; I was still in self preservation mode and continued to look for love and acceptance in other places, hard wired to think that everybody leaves sooner or later. This is a tough habit to break and at times it got in the way of my relationship with God. It has taken a decade, but I finally feel free and at peace with the world around me. God has been true to his word; He will never leave me or forsake me. I am a fickle human being and have not always been a willing disciple but God is my rock and He is unmoving. I remember someone once telling me that God was a rock and I should fix my anchor firmly on it so that when the seas are rough or when I begin to drift away I will never go far from the one that will always guide me and teach me and give me comfort and security. 

The verse I have written on my kitchen cupboard is Zephaniah 3:17 “ The Lord your God is with you; he is mighty to save. He will delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” I love this verse. It gives me hope and strength to carry on because I know that in everything I do God is with me; my Father in heaven delights in me and he chose to save me even though I will never be good enough.  

What have you learnt from mothering alone?
Parenting has taught me a lot about the father heart of God. His love is unconditional, He guides us and protects us, He corrects out of love in a firm but caring way. I think this is true of any parent not just those that find themselves in this role alone.  What I have come to realise is that I am never alone. It is easy to pull out the ‘pity party’ card and mope around feeling sorry for myself, but in reality this pushes people further away. I have an amazing son who is funny and charming. We enjoy each others company and know when we need to give each other some space. We delight in each others achievements and respect our differences.  

What hopes&fears do you have for the future?
I was dreading having a teenager! I always knew that Ben would one day grow up and start making decisions for himself. He is now choosing his study options for GCSE next year and talking about college and beyond. My hope for him is that he will work hard and make good decisions so that he can be the best he can be in the future. I am hopeful for my future. I started a part time support worker job 12 months ago which has slowly increased in hours. Going to work has been hard after such a long time being my own boss but I am now in a position to save money for the future and set new goals for us as a family. Going on a family holiday abroad has always been just out of our reach. I can now look at the holiday photos people put on Facebook knowing that this time next year we could be booking a trip to New York (top of my list) and planning whether to go to MOMA or the Natural History Museum first.

Can you not be both mum&dad to Ben? 
I have always been acutely aware that I can not be the male role model my son needs. I can do the whole rough and tumble thing, I’ve learnt how to play football and I am a mean opponent on Golden Eye for the Wii, but I am not and never will be a guy and nor should I have to be. My dad and brother have always been a constant influence in Ben’s life. They have made themselves available to him and he trusts and respects them. I am quietly confident that if Ben was in a situation he felt he couldn’t share with me that he would feel able to seek them out and talk through the problem.  We have been really blessed to know some great Christian guys over the years that have come along side us and taken Ben under their wing. A lot of behaviour (good and bad) is taught, and without the ‘tom foolery’ and steady guidance these guys have bought into our lives Ben would have missed out on some valuable learning experiences. I won’t name them (for they are many) but to all of these guys, past and future, I am truly grateful.

What's been the best thing about Mothering?
Ben. He has been and still is a real joy. He has had his fair share of tantrums and traumas but he really is the delight of my heart. I love to look at photos of when he was small and think about the fun we have had. I now have the privilege to see the man he will one day become. He is doing well at school and seems to be choosing his friends wisely. It is reassuring to know that by doing my best I have done enough and he always has God watching over him when I can not.  

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Mothering in Fear

This is my wonderful friend's account of her bumpy start to motherhood, and is the twelfth post in the Mothering series.

Being a Mum is the most wonderfully amazing thing I’ve ever experienced but I’d be lying if I said this feeling hadn’t been coupled with anxiety and terror from the moment of conception. I knew I was pregnant before I did the test; I’m not sure how but I just did. We were incredibly blessed to fall pregnant immediately after we’d decided to start trying and I was aware of other peoples’ struggles. Whilst I was delighted and excited I began to have intense feelings of fear about losing the baby and to some extent this robbed me of the joy I knew I should feel. I also felt guilty about having the best news but expecting the worst.  

I had begun to resent God (especially in the first two weeks after Phoebe’s birth). It sounds totally crazy because on one hand I was praising His name for giving me a gorgeous, healthy daughter and on the other my obsessive fear of her dying resurfaced and I spent a vast amount of time sobbing and fearful. I believed He would take her back to teach me a lesson for all my past sins, which totally side steps His wonderful grace and I resented the mean God I had created in my mind. It meant I was scared to pick her up or put her down. Every time she cried I felt sick with fear and I felt consumed with the fear of bringing her into a world that is so horribly broken. BUT God kept putting the right people in my path and blessing me in so many incredible ways through the support of friends and family. This resentment didn’t last long as friends prayed with me and the truth set me free.

Nothing prepared me for these feelings and the dreaded sleep deprivation but equally nothing prepared me for the amount of love you can feel for a person as soon as they enter your life. I spent hours mesmerised by Phoebe, mentally studying every part of her and falling more in love every day. I had thought I was prepared (the nursery looked great and I had clothes, nappies, etc) but I wasn’t prepared for not being the most important person in my life. It sounds awful but it’s true. It’s a crazy learning curve but a fantastic one. It is actually incredibly releasing to have someone else to occupy your thoughts, especially if you’re prone to fear of man and over analysing yourself. I love that Phoebe comes first and it makes me feel closer to God; I understand more about how He sees me as a daughter because if I love Phoebe an insane amount, I have faith that He loves me even more.

Three weeks in (when the overwhelming feeling of being out of my depth had begun to subside) I got mastitis for a second time. To cut a long story short I’ll list it: Mastitis, allergic reaction to penicillin, ambulance, adrenalin, oxygen, morphine, drip, abscesses and MRSA infection. I was in hospital for 5 days. My parents were amazing and looked after Phoebe and my husband Doug visited as much as possible. The hospital was wonderful and gave me my own room so Phoebe could visit. Friends prayed for me and sent a constant stream of messages and cards. I look back and see a time of incredible Godly provision. "On my bed i remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me". Psalm 63v6-8 

At the time I truly had moments where I thought I was dying. The pain was excruciating and the infection made my limbs feel like lead so I struggled to even hold Phoebe. I stopped breast-feeding and felt incredibly relieved and utterly guilty. I didn’t feel guilty for Phoebe’s sake but instead like I’d let motherhood down. I still struggle to bottle feed in public and feel the compulsive need to over explain the decision to bottle-feed. The enemy got a good foothold and I felt like I would be particularly judged by Christian friends, which was a total lie. In fact most people were incredibly supportive and sympathetic.The hardest thing about being in hospital was being away from Phoebe, who could only visit. I cried a lot, read trashy mags, spent way too much time on facebook until I finally decided to pray properly (not just the constant request for God to stop the pain) and listen to preaches. God broke into my sadness and loneliness in that time but also broke a big part of my fear surrounding Phoebe. He assured me that Phoebe was in His hands and I felt an assurance of the fact I’d been chosen to be her Mum, entrusted with her care and given the Holy Spirit to help me do this. 

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God". Philippians 4v6

This time helped me appreciate my own parents in a whole new way and it also helped me realise that however many books you read, to be a good parent you need to pray hard, love unconditionally and trust God. Nothing can prepare anyone to be a parent but it is so essential to be open and talk to existing parents. This has helped me realise how normal all my feelings have been. The enemy loves us to feel isolated but being a parent gives you access to an incredible club where people will go out of their way to support you and are desperate for you to succeed. No-one is waiting for you to slip up; instead everyone knows the highs and lows and is ready to step in and help whether it’s at church, mother and baby groups, family or friends. But even in the moments when it seems so hard and it’s you and a screaming baby, God is very present with the desire for us to be like Him. I have to rely on His provision of energy and patience and also to take His lead and know when to rest. I am so grateful for the incredible gift of a daughter and that will always outweigh the momentary lows, which are quickly forgotten. Being a Mum is awesome! 

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Mothering an Empty Nest

This is an interview with one of those rare gems in life, and is the eleventh post in the Mothering series.

How long have you been mothering an empty nest? 
Our three sons are now 22, 24, and 27. They have been 'coming and going' for around five years, as they have travelled, attended university, lived independently and out of necessity come home for a season. Now the nest is 'officially' empty and has been for seven months.

How long were you mothering a fuller nest? 
Twenty eight years.

How did you feel about the nest emptying before it happened?
It's a little like preparing for your first child's birth, with practical arrangements to be made and an anticipation for what's to come. I always accepted you couldn't stop the inevitable; they would grow up, become independent  and leave home. However, it's fair to say that I had mixed emotions. Would my 'mothering' style change and if so, how? Would they stay in contact? How would my identity change? Would Simon and I remain in a good place in our marriage? And I knew I would miss them!   

How do you feel about the empty nest now?
I remember reading every baby book going before our first son was born and I thought afterwards that nothing quite prepares you for the real thing. But without that prior knowledge and encouragement from friends it could have been more difficult. I'm so grateful for my friends who are ahead of me because they showed me it's okay to occasionally feel sad or even cry because you are missing one or all of them. The adjusting continues in a positive and hopefully exciting way.

What's the best bit about an empty nest?
1. Everything is where I left it.
2. There's food in the fridge.
3. No clothes on bedroom floors!
4. Peace and quiet.
5. Lots of 'leftovers'

What's the worst bit about an empty nest?
All of the above except 1 and 3.

How do you 'mother' them out of the nest?
I am still their mother. I still love them to bits and I still hold very precious my role and all that is in my heart for them. But I fully expect and encourage them to make their own decisions and take responsibility for themselves. At the heart of mothering is the relationship you have with your child and I know I don't have to make big changes in how I relate to each of them. They are all very loving towards me and honouring of me. Simon has consistently had that expectation from them, especially in a male dominated home. I'm very thankful for that.

In many ways my role hasn't changed. I still encourage them, I still give them hope when things are difficult, I still point out their 'best bits', I still want to feed them and any of their friends! I still take a big interest in their lives, I still have moments of concern for them and I'm still here if they need me.

And I still pray for them every day. There have been times when I have felt an urgency to pray only to find out that there has been good reason to do so. My all time prayer is that they will have hearts for God, whatever their circumstances. Psalm 100 v 5 continues to encourage me.  "For the Lord is good and his love endures for ever: his faithfulness continues through all generations".  I am thankful that they each have known God's love for them.

What is God teaching you through this season? 
There's nothing like a change of seasons to make you stop and take stock. There have  been times of feeling inadequate; thinking I could have done it differently.  Yet I have to  choose to take myself back to God's overwhelming Grace in my life, His kindness and the many ways He has blessed me and my family. I will never be the perfect mother but I know that God continues to help me.
"Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him"Psalm 37v7

How has having an empty nest affected your marriage?
Life can be busy with work and family life so Simon and I made a choice a few years ago to build up some new interests together. We have a great marriage and we still enjoy each other's company so we make time together a real priority. This doesn't mean we spend all our time together, in fact, friendships are very important and we are enjoying the flexibility we now have to be with people. It's also a time to remember to keep going in all that God is doing in our lives and in the church, and our role in it all. 

What advice would you give mothers with full and hectic nests?
Embrace it. Thank God. Enjoy the season. Stay connected to friends. Don't beat yourself up when it's not going well. Ask for help. Make time to be with your husband to stay connected 
(a secure marriage is so important for your children). Keep learning about being a mother. Talk to God in the day - pray for your children and husband. Look after yourself and make a wee effort with how you look (good spin off in your marriage).  

Anything else....?
One of the great things about being a Christian is that I know God never gives up on me and He always has more for me. Although my life has become less hectic with an empty nest, it has given me space to do some of the things I've always wanted to do; exercising, organising a walking group with friends, being more available for people and families and looking out for how God would want to use me next. I feel very positive about this stage in my life because ultimately God is in control and I know He has more in store.