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.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Mothering Through Loss

I have asked my friend Becky to share her story of loss, grief & eternal hope, following on from the previous post in the mothering series. (Sharing different mothers' stories).

I am a mum of two sons. One on Earth and one in Heaven. Zach is 3 and Joel passed away in July of last year at 3 1/2 months old.

He seemed to be a normal and healthy baby until the weekend before he died. He started vomiting severely so we were admitted to hospital with a suspected gastric bug. In the middle of our second night in hospital I was unable to wake him and a CT scan showed that he had a very large brain tumour. We were transferred to a specialist hospital where they informed us that Joel was already brain dead and there was nothing they could do. A few hours later we turned off his life support and he died in mine and my husband's arms.

It has been 6 months since Joel passed away and they have without doubt been the hardest months of my life. 'How are you?' is now a very hard question to answer. Sometimes I don't want to answer. Sometimes I am not sure my answer is appropriate or know whether the person really wants to hear it. Sometimes I just don't really know and cannot put into words all that's going on in my heart and mind.

I know that I miss my son. I think about him every day, throughout the day. I also miss who he would be now and what he would be doing at 9 months old. I'm aching to hold him and kiss him again. Wishing he could share in all the new memories our family is making. Feeling somewhat unsettled and incomplete. Knowing that however big our family grows there will always be a Joel shaped hole in it.

I am so thankful that we were given Joel, even for such a short time. Despite the pain, despite seeing my husband's grief and Zach's confused sadness; those short, sweet months with my precious boy were worth it. I wouldn't swap the pain of today if it meant not having him for the time we did. But God has helped me to realise that it is for so much more. His short life here on Earth was only the beginning, of his life and of our time together. From his very conception Joel became an eternal being and he will now exist as long as I will. He is already getting to experience the reality of Heaven and being in the presence of his Father God and will enjoy eternity doing so. One day I will join him there and get to spend the rest of my days with him. Those days, which seem so distant and ethereal now, will be just as real as these days.

Not long after Joel died I read this verse:
"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope." I Thessalonians 4:13
Since then I have prayed that God would show us what it means to grieve with hope and help us to do that.

As a Christian, the death of someone you love is no less painful than for anyone else. Your grief is no less real or raw. Sometimes my grief is overwhelming. The pain and anguish is so deep and strong I don't know what to do with myself. I still experience all the normal grief responses and feelings: fear, anger, questioning, guilt, sorrow, doubt. The difference is, under all that grief there is hope. I cling onto it and onto God. The hope that God is with us in our suffering, the hope that nothing can separate us from His love and the hope that death is not the end: Jesus has overcome death and we will spend all eternity with him in the new heavens and the new earth. A place more wonderful than we can comprehend.
These truths are more real and more important to me than ever before. In the daily struggles and low times I contemplate them, and Heaven and eternity in a way that I have not done before. Although there is still pain, they bring comfort and encouragement and hope.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
2 Corinthians 4:16-18

That doesn't mean it's easy. I am realising like never before my total dependence on and need for God. 

I am constantly trying, unsuccessfully, to do things in my own strength. A dear counsellor from our church helped me to recognise that I was trying to deal with my emotions and thoughts intellectually, attempting to rationalise them away rather than going to Jesus. Telling myself things like “You shouldn't be feeling fearful, trust God”. I realised I need to admit to how I feel and invite Jesus into those emotions and thoughts and into those broken parts of my heart. I need to ask him to reveal his truth to my heart and to help me. To reveal to me more of who he is. And I am thankful that He does. He is faithful.

"Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us."
 Psalm 62.8 

Zach, who is three, has been amazing through this whole thing. He brings us such joy. The loss of his little brother has brought sadness, but mainly confusion. He still comments on how he misses baby Joel. We talk about him fairly often and how we miss him, but how he is now in Heaven and with Jesus and that one day we will see him again. I love the simplicity of his understanding: it is so sad that baby Joel died, but it is so happy that he is now in Heaven with Jesus. 

I will continue to talk to Zach about Joel as he grows up and to any subsequent children we have. It is important to me that Joel will always be remembered as a part of our family. I hope that in doing so, it will also provoke them to grapple with the reality of pain, suffering and death, whilst also pointing them to Jesus, their creator, sustainer and Saviour and the eternal hope we have in him.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Fight for This Love

So my previous post, Fight the Good Fight, was all about those wonderful creatures I live with called boys, and the fact that they are such physical little beings. Physical little beings who constantly want to fight each other. In the words of Queen Elsa, I have learnt to 'let it go', when it comes to understanding these brotherly interactions. A mum of boys could literally spend 24hrs a day, 7 days a week, asking them to stop and trying to work out why they do it. And I just haven't got that kind of time or patience. So for the most part, I ignore it until one of them has had too much and needs my intervention. Other days, I send them out into the garden to do it, because I have double glazing and can't hear them. Then there are those hours/days when they are literally on a ban from touching each other, or even being in the same room as each other. 

With most parenting which goes on in this house, we aim to go for 'selfless not fair'. We want them to prefer one another, to put the other person's needs above their own. If they're going to fight for anything, we want them to fight to love one another, like it says in John's gospel. In fact, it doesn't just say it, it commands it.  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." John 13v34

With anything you want for your kids, they will mostly learn how to do it, (or indeed not do it), firstly, from the example you set them and secondly, from constantly training them in it. As well as anything I say to my little lot, I know they are looking at my actions too. They are looking & listening to see how 'selfless not fair' I am with the husband and with others in my life. There's no point really in even teaching them to be selfless, if all they see modelled is selfishness. This can be really annoying or graciously humbling, (whichever way you choose to look at it), when you just really want your husband to put your needs first of course. But I have learnt along the way, that God does seem to use the little people in my life to point out some/all of my weaknesses.

One of the best things about the above verse, is that we are to love one another, because Christ first loved us. As a mum, I have to remember God's amazing selfless love for me, in order to love my kids better. His love is ever so patient, ever so kind, ever so pure. What an example we have!

And then comes the training...the drip, drip, drip of parenting. If you don't plant a seed, and cultivate it, how will it grow? At the moment, one of the ways we as a household are working on how we can love one another, is in the way we speak to each another. We have been working on it forever, and I presume we will continue with this little 'heart changing project' until....well, I can't see an end ever coming. But as Cheryl Cole would say, "Anything that's worth having, is sure enough worth fighting for". And I am fighting for my kids to love one another. (Hands up if you're singing along...we've gotta fight, fight, fight, fight, fight for this love...)

So we discussed phrases we use that others don't like, and phrases others use that upset us. Then we practised other ways of saying those things. My tone is a constant that I have to work on, as it can be naggy or impatient or snappy or grumpy...I could go on. So if we're all working on it together, that helps me and it helps them. It's especially humbling when they say, "Mum, I didn't really like your tone then". Of course, I want to pick them up and throw them out of the window at this point, but seeing as they follow the example I set them, they would just think I had initiated a bundle. 

The verse I went for, in training this is 
"Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity". Psalm 133v1
I want my boys to dwell in unity with one another. Are they going to stop bundling each other? I doubt it. But can I train their hearts to love one another? Well, I hope so.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Fight the Good Fight

I am a mum of boys. I have been a mum of boys for nearly eleven years. I love boys. They rock. I appreciate their strengths; (although I'm generalising, and many girls hold these qualities too)... I like their sense of adventure, their self confidence, their feeling of invincibility, and their need to discover and to work things out. I like how they strive to do better than their last attempt, I like their respect for goodies and baddies. I like their boldness and how they laugh at inappropriate things. And I've come to expect, if not totally understand their need for nakedness and shooting stuff. 

Very early on in my mothering journey, I came to realise just how physical boys are. And with the subsequent arrival of more boys in my life, that realisation just grew and grew. If they need to get from A to B, they see no need to just walk the route. They run, they climb, they 'Kapow' and 'Whoosh'. They jump onto, and into, and off of, anything. They drape and hang themselves; off of the sofa, off of the banister, off of me, off of anything actually. Recently my mum arrived, to one of her grandsons hanging upside down from a high tree branch, with a breezy "hello nanny". 

And then there's the physical relationship they have with each other. The bundles, the trip ups, the pinches, the wedgies, the punches, the grabs, the headlocks, the noogies, the kicks, the jumping on each other, and the outright fights. This is the bit I have learnt to expect and overlook, but not necessarily understand. I, like any little sister, enjoyed the odd pinch under my brother's arm, with the retaliation of a wet tea-towel whipping, but the constant desire to hurt one another, is a bit beyond me. And it really is constant. Neither does any of it mean that they don't like each other either. Apparently it's just in-built, and maybe even a sign of affection for one another. Sure you have to comment on some power plays or when one is more involved than the other, or when the angry face comes out. But most of the time, I just walk away, perhaps with a casual warning that I'm in the kitchen if anyone gets hurt. 

And they do get hurt, and sorrys are said. But when asked if the victim would like me to stop the game altogether, they often answer no and run back into it, topless and smiling, with fresh vigour. The testosterone build up after said bundle, means they struggle to just stop and calm it all afterwards...I've learnt that the 'cooling down' bit takes a bit of time and often some separation from each other. 'Tis all but a mystery to this mum. 

On a recent family trip to London, I decided to not comment on any rough, physical play. I left it to the husband and just took pictures of them instead. It was very releasing...well for me anyway! They can't help themselves...Any quiet moment, any waiting, any queueing, any standing near each other, any sitting next to each other...they're just like magnets drawn to each other, drawn to fight one another. (And the husband can't help but join in too). I was comforted by a French family in the museum queue. The little girl was reading the information booklet, while her two brothers grappled with each other. Their mum seemed to be ignoring them too. I felt like we were soul sisters. Maybe I should have hugged her...

So what's my point? I'm not sure I even have one, apart from to reach out to all mums of boys and say "I know. It's OK. They're normal. Keep going. Just train them in what is worth fighting for".

"But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith."
1 Timothy 6v11

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Be The Good Girl You Always Have To Be

So Christmas has been and gone. In our house, Christmas has been with us since the middle of October. I led a Christmas small group for ten weeks. We made Festive Wreathes, made and decorated Christmas cakes, went ice skating, stole presents from one another, drank Mulled Wine and generally stretched out the festive season for as long as we possibly could. It was hectic but a lot of fun, and the odd Christmas jumper or pair of earrings accompanied us along the way.

Two lyrical observations popped up for me over the Christmas period. The princess in our house got given the Frozen DVD, and so the household has been singing "Let it go" quite a lot. Although, the phrase has been a regular feature anyway, whenever someone is told to just 'let it go'... it usually starts the theatrical number off, which changes the mood of the house quite quickly. One could say it breaks the ice. But now we have the DVD and the dress so the frequency has naturally doubled. 

Elsa is of course, quite badly advised by her parents to keep her worries and fears to herself, to 'conceal it' rather than 'feel it'. This is an interesting parenting technique. Teaching your kids to bottle everything up, and not let anyone in, can only result in a breakdown at some point, resulting in the creation of a terrifying ice monster and a dramatic hair & dress makeover. I guess the King & Queen of Arendelle were parenting out of fear and anxiety, which all of us parents can relate to on some level. 

Elsa was also told to 'be the good girl she always has to be'. This leads me on to a carol I sang just before Christmastime. Once in Royal David's City, holds the lyrics 'Christian children all must be...Mild, obedient, good as He'. I looked at the husband at this point, but he did a very good job of ignoring me, and continued singing with gusto. Now I think as parents, we should definitely aim for excellence for our kids, and for ourselves. But just to be told to 'be good' doesn't help anyone. And it's the highest expectation ever. God Himself is good. He is Holy. He is something completely 'other' to us. To be fair, the song from the 1800s, does point us to follow Jesus' example and if Elsa's parents had done the same, the Disney classic may not have been a huge hit, and the story itself would have been pretty short, with less theatrical singing moments and no merchandise to get sucked into.

The most wonderful thing about God's standard of goodness, is that He knew we wouldn't be able to attain it. He knew we needed His help to be good. And He sent His son to rescue us from all the bad we get caught up in. Sometimes I forget this when I'm parenting. I want the kids to just be good, because it's easier for me. Sometimes it's an inconvenience to stop and train their hearts rather than their behaviour. Sometimes, I haven't got time to stop and be a godly example, I just want them to be the good kids they always have to be. Then I'm reminded of my Heavenly Father's patience towards me. He always has the time to train my heart, and to show me His love and His grace when I get it wrong. 

Do not remember the sins of my youth
    and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
    for you, Lord, are good.
Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
    and teaches them his way.

Psalm 25v7-9