Not really a PhD Update

I’ve wanted to do a PhD update for a while, but I’ve been too busy doing a PhD to deal with writing one, so this just a brief post, with a pretty picture, to stand in its place.  ???????????????????????????????

I’ve just finished my work on Exodus 3-7 and have moved on to Sinai, to where Moses brings Israel to God in chapter 19-20. This a really intriguing chapter with a lot of going up and down the mountain, and a lot of making absolutely crystal clear how unapproachable God is in his awesome, not to say dangerous, holiness.

As I turned to the commentaries on this passage I’ve found comments that drive me to frustration, especially when commentators try to “improve” the order, or smooth out difficulties.  However I’ve also found comments that are wonderfully encouraging so I thought I’d share this quote, from Childs’ commentary on Exodus as he reflects on how the New Testament relates to the picture of God in Exodus 19-20:

“The new covenant is not a substitution of a friendly God for the terror of Sinai, but rather a gracious message of an open access to the same God whose presence still calls forth awe and reverence”

In a day where many seem to try and drive a wedge between the God of the Old Testament and the Jesus of the gospels this is a wonderfully refreshing comment to come across.  Old and New it is the same God, but in the New access is given to all who will come through Jesus.  Or, to put it in the words of the writer to the Hebrews (Hebrews 12 – read this after Exodus 19):

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. …

28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

Soul food and Sabbath rest

It is Friday night, my time in the week to reflect and write. This week has been half term so my thoughts tonight are an attempt to savour and share if at all possible some of the wonder of yesterday’s soul feast that I got to enjoy. But as is the case when we have been without deep nourishing soul food for any length of time a rich feast, while amazing in the moment, it can leave us feeling somewhat out of sorts the next day. My children will testify to the fact that while I seemed alived and energised yesterday, today they were met with a very out of sorts, grumpy mum. That is not to detract from the meal itself but the reminder that I need soul feeding more regularly than is happening at present.

This was a gathering to which Mark and I had been invited but in the end only I went while he took all 3 children to their delight around the Natural History Museum in Oxford. It was during the time of prayer at the start that I realised I felt just as I did as a small child filled with excitment over Christmas morning and all that awaited. Prayers that flowed from the hearts of men and women who have been loving Jesus for years. Those years have not all been filled with highs but they have been years through which genuine love and delight in Jesus have been forged.

Two of the threads of the day that I have come away with is that of Sabbath rest and our humanity in it fullness and they weave together so well.

We are created by God on His final day of work. He then rests. We enter the world and being our live with God in a place of rest. This is echoed in the rhythm of the day which in Hebrew thinking is one of night followed by day. We rest and then get up and enter into the good works already prepared for us by God. He has been at work before us and we are invited in to His work to revel in it and enjoy it as we were with creation. And in the life of Jesus we see one who knew His Father’s work and was able to not heal everyone and provide for every need. He sought time alone, He sought time with His friends away from the crowds and on the cross He was able to say ‘it is finished’. Not that every need had been met, that every illness cured but still He said it was finished. The work He had come to do was finished.

So as I consider heading to bed am I able to say with confidence ‘it is finished’ for the work God has invitied me into in this day? If not is that because I have sought to fill the day with more than God has asked of me this day? Have I greater expectations on what I can achieve in a day than God? Do I think my productivity and busyness reflects my faith and God more clearly than having faith in God to show His presence to others when needed? Am I willing to rest and allow Him to be sustaing and keeping me at the start of this new day approaching?

Then thinking through our humaness, I need look no further than my children’s animal encylopediea and smile considering that if God can be this entertaining and creative with all these animals then it is more than ok for me to enjoy life too. You don’t create all these animals and then create people to enter into it all to be gloomy. This is not about what is beneficial/allowed but simply about enjoying life in all its fullness to the beat God placed within you with the purpose of enjoying life and taking delight in life.

Rest and delight energises and restores us, they lift us up and set us right way up with God, with His work, with those around us. This coming week my prayer is that I will allow Sabbath rest to shape my days, seek the company of friends to delight in the wonder of creativity be it the colours of creation, a meal, music, dancing with my children, time with my husband and seek His calling into works of homecare and teaching that He calls me day by day to.

And maybe then the next soul feast I get to savour will not leave me feeling so out of sorts the next day because there has been a day by day soul meal in Him taking place.

reflections on our home learning 7

It is a very good job that we have a week’s holiday now. We are not heading off anywhere exotic but we are laying aside formal lessons and filling our days with other activities like dentist appointments and haircuts as well as time with friends and craft projects. Bob announced his brain could no longer work on Wednesday night and that it had all turned to mush and I have to admit Thursday’s lessons needed more patience and will power than either he or I had so I called things to a halt a day early. Having breezed through (2 – ? = 1), his inability to work out (? – 1 = 1) was the final straw at the end of the maths lesson.  Another great reason for home educating, when the learning is not happening lets not force it.

This morning saw the boys get into a great imaginative game that had them happily occupied while I failed on at least two attempts to get Kanga to sleep. The weather has been rather damp this week and so cabin fever has reared its head, so I was encouraged and blessed to see sibling play today going well as there have been plenty of less harmonious moments this week between the boys. I rested in the knoweldge that neither Bob or I had the focus for lessons and that he and Zog were now doing what I had longed to see happen all week – playing together happily.  I know there are many parenting books, blogs and gurus say that even in wet weather your should get properly kitted out and get out doors with children every day. There is no such things as too much rain, it is all about the clothing. While that is not a problem with Bob and infact he is more than happy to be out and about on adventures in the rain and cold, Zog is not impressed with cold or rain and ensures all around know this however well dressed he is for the occassion. Zog loves being out doors and has wanted to get out lots this week but his disgust when he gets out and realisese that it is still wet is not a happy moment. He is less than impressed with my lack of ability to control the weather and volume of water falling from the sky.

It was also a week where my whiplash that occurred last week got the better of me at the start of the week and I have had my head elsewhere pondering questions relating to our future and what is our next step? These along with some other things on my mind this week and some poor quality sleep has left me feeling less than on the ball or together in my days. Combined with the wet weather days have felt long, hard and muddy inside and out.

I did manage to use the time on Tuesday when the whiplash had me resting for the day while Mark had the children getting lesson materials and plans printed and organised for the 8 weeks from after half term to Christmas. Realising that it is a week longer and how this week has been a battle for us all I may need to factor in a small break around week 4 to enable us to keep going for the full 8 weeks. I have also adjusted and tweeked some of the lesson plans we were following to make allowances for how Bob is doing, where his strengths are and which areas need more work. Knowing that children his age are alreayd being streamed at school for abilities makes me thankful that we can simply change things up with no impact on his confidence or moral at this young age.

Its been a week when I know my state of mind and grumpiness has meant moments have been lost, that Bob, Zog and Kanga have all been impacted and in turn reacted at times because of the circumstances. What has been helpful is using our emotions chart as that helps us all see how each other are doing as well as expressing our own feelings so we can try and work together to over come when the range of emotions covered is unsure, frustrated, silly and disappointed.

The wonder of animlas on BBC iplayer has continued to inspire the imagination of both boys, Bob continues to read more and more words, is asking all sorts of questions to gain understanding and clarity about the world around him. Zog continues to dive deep into the world of numbers and Kanga sees no need in day time naps if her brothers do not need them and continues to trail them all day long, unless there is an unguarded staircase or open door to escape up or through. We have all grown, we have all learnt more about ourselves and the world around us even if we cannot articulate it coherently. It may be a week that seemed in the moment to be lacking any structure, any teaching, but looking back learning never stopped.

What is it?

The somewhat cryptic title of this blog post reflects what the Israelites said when they saw God’s provision of manna for them in the desert for the first time (Exodus 16).  Manna sounds very similar to the question: “what is it?” in Hebrew, and seems to suggest that the Israelites hadn’t seen this strange substance before.

I was re-reading a chapter on Exodus 16 in Walter Moberley’s excellent “Old Testament Theology”, and was struck by a few quotes which I thought I’d put up here, as I found them perceptively encouraging about the nature of the Christian life:

“The striking thing about YHWH’s provision is that Israel has no idea what to make of it.” (80)
“In this depiction the heavenly bread is resistant to one of the most basic of human urges: to save up and to hoard. It is part of YHWH’s new way, into which Israel is being inducted, in which familiar categories of understanding and yardsticks of behaviour are replaced. YHWH’s principle is that Israel’s bread must each day be provided anew and collected anew. The implicit sense is of a need to appropriate the divine gift always in the present, in the here and now.” (82)
“To summarise: The manna, a divine provision, can be seen to function as a symbolic concretisation of divine grace. It testingly challenges Israel to learn to live from an unfamiliar resource; it nourishes the Israelites irrespective of their varying abilities; it resists being accommodated to conventional human desires; it is designed to enable Israel to develop a particular rhythm of life, encompassing both the working week and rest on the Sabbath. In all these ways the manna inducts Israel into the divine pattern for life.” (84)

These quotes all summed up the sense I’ve had recently that God’s provision for us comes in ways so different from what I would plan, and in a way that seems designed to force me to trust him, and cope with new and unexpected patterns.

I’ve seen a couple of times recently how much my firstborn son hates routine to be changed, and the way in which unexpected events throw him completely (sometimes even good unexpected). It is easy to  see his overreaction, but the reality is that I am exactly the same with God about life.  I hate the unexepected.  I hate plans to be changed or overthrown.  When I was single I thought I liked things to be spontaneous – the reality is that I like things to be spontaneous as long as I have spontaneously planned them in my head.  I don’t like someone else’s spontaneity forced on me.

These quotes about the manna are a reminder of how freeing God’s daily grace is, and yet how scary that freedom is.  I have to surrender my desire for control of my life, and submit to God’s rythmn.  The Israelites had a hard job accepting that the manna would last 2 days on a Friday, and yet it did.  They had a hard job accepting that Monday’s manna would not last until Tuesday, and sure enough it didn’t.  God provides enough for each day – and enough for a day of rest, and he provides on a day by day basis.  Which I imagine is why Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow, but to trust God one day at a time.

As John Piper puts it (Today’s mercies for Today’s troubles – in one of his devotional books):

God’s mercies are new every morning because each day only has enough mercy in it for that day. This is why we tend to despair when we think that we may have to bear tomorrow’s load on today’s resources. God wants us to know: We won’t. Today’s mercies are for today’s troubles. Tomorrow’s mercies are for tomorrow’s troubles.

The manna in the wilderness was given one day at a time. There was no storing up. That is the way we must depend on God’s mercy. You do not receive today the strength to bear tomorrow’s burdens. You are given mercies today for today’s troubles. Tomorrow the mercies will be new. “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).

reflections on our home learning 6

I have come to the end of this week content and at peace. It has been a week of simply joys and pleasures. It has been a week when I have had tangible moments that God is at work in my heart and in our life. I am seeing buds coming, offering the hope of a harvest, a reminder that prayers sown in tears have not been wasted. It has also been a week when conversations with others with children at school has made me thankful once more for the opportunity we have to be at home learning. I know there will be weeks when school will seem idyllic but for now I am very thankful for the season and place we are in with our children and their learning.

Somewhere along the line we have got a week behind with the maths lessons. That did cause a momentary rise of anxiety but then I remembered we are learning at home and the schedule is there to offer a helping hand. We are not bound by it and Thursday mornings have been lost recently to the Great Bristish Bake Off, which was then always followed by elaborate role playing which covered creativity, maths, science, vocabulary and most of our kitchen being relocated to the ‘bake off tent’ set up in the sitting room. With the final this week Thursdays will return to normal next week and we can get caught up again with our standard maths lessons.

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Having been encouraged with Bob’s writing last week this week did feel as if all knowledge and skills for writing, maths and history at times had been discarded but with some concentration and encouragement he was able to get through lessons. For Bob one of his main challenges will be to remain focused on the task in hand and not get totally fascinated by one train of thought and run with it while forgetting about the task in hand. We have realised this is true in all of his life and rather than discipline him for not doing what he has been asked to do, remind him not to get distracted in the book he found along the way. It is amazing how many books lie between the shoe cupboard, the kitchen sink etc and wherever he is when asked to do something. And then we have moments like bedtime last night when having not had ‘structured’ lessons he turned bedtime stories into grammar, history, maths and science time with his questions. The mind is never not learning, the question is are we ready to go with the flow of the moment and savour his hunger to learn, to grasp and understand.

We have also taken advantage of the moments of sunshine to let the boys simply be outdoors in the garden and letting their imaginations run free. I love pottering around getting moments of housework done while they are outside and have the windows wide opened so I can hear the stories being re- enacted. As Ancient Egypt has been our theme for these weeks there have been various re tellings of the different lives of the gods and pharoahs of the times.

Our Tuesday this week was taken up with Sumerian mosaics for crafts and then a glorious walk in the park searching 1m square areas for all sorts of natural treasures and discoveries.


We then went along for our first taste of the Cheltenham Literature Festival as we had been generously given tickets by Waterstones to go and see Nicola Davis from the Really Wild Show. The boys loved it and Bob got to be up front to help with demonstrations as he had been able to answer questions. As Mark said it could have very easily turned into a dialogue between Nicola Davis and Bob.

Lessons in life this week have required the boys adpating and helping while I have been taking things gently thanks to a lady not noticing the bus we were on going round a roundabout and the bus driver doing an emergency stop. Thankfully the children were all fine but I was left with whiplash. This would not be a problem were it just the boys or Kanga being older but I have struggled to hold her so Mark has had to give up time again this week to help. Bob often finds times when I am not fully well unsettling and can be a source of spirals for him but he has done really well this week. It has got in under his skin but we have been encouraged to see him making strides to work with the situation rather than lash out at it. It has been encouraging in various ways this week to seeing Bob dig deep with advance notice to navigate situations that would have 2, 4, 12 months ago have thrown him totally. He is learning that bearing with one another and carrying one anothers cares is not always an easy road or self benefiting in the moment but that it requires a depth of character and sacrifice.

Zog is continuing to love numbers and identify the written form of them whenever he sees it and fill in the gaps on books he knows by heart that Bob is pracitising reading. Kanga continues to engage and explore the world with a mind and desire that is faster than her feet.

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reflections on our home learning journey 5

I think this is a week where Bob would say there simply have not been enough hours in the day for all the books he wants to read, have read to him. And I would agree but it has also been an encouraging steady week of getting on with each day. It’s been a week with appointments and time with friends so we have had to be flexible with when we have done lessons and how lessons look when you attempt to do them in the afternoon rather than first thing in the morning. There have also been days when we are done by 9:30am due to early starts and energy to just get on with it, leaving whole days to play and read, so one might think there should be enough time for reading for Bob but I reckon he will always think there is never enough time for all the books he wants to read in a day.

I have been in quiet disbelief that we have already completed five weeks and are on track with my aims even though the schedule now is very much a backdrop rather than a front player in our weeks. We have all made steps forward and grown. We have all faced stretching challenges. It has been a week when I am thankful that we are not competing at the school gates, when sibling friendships have blossomed and weathered some hard calls and learning how to consider others has been played out in tangible ways. At this stage many of those lessons are still one way as Bob can grasp these concepts in ways that Zog is not yet able to. This can at times be a balancing act to ensure Bob is not always having to do what Zog wants when a choice has to be made, so that Zog does not assume he can simply have his way. Even if he cannot grasp what it means to consider someone else’s preferences the practice of letting Bob have a choice is important for later on. And in it all it has been teaching ground for me to listen to both boys and to show them that I have heard both of their sides of events and preferences. Bob has also shown great patience with Kanga and has been a real help to me with her as she strives to walk and has become the expert escape artist to the back garden to find the tap and as much mud as possible before I track her down.

In many ways I would say that while lessons have happened this week Bob’s biggest growth has been in his character and that has been a great privilege to watch. He like me has a long way to go in living out the image of God but he is growing up and it is doing my soul to good. It has also been a week when Zog has been quietly reflecting a gentle character where manners flow very naturally when gentle acts of kindness are extended to him without show and obedience comes most readily to him when instructions are gently asked with a please and thank you. This seems in contrast to him being our very rough and tumble physical no fear boy. Bob continues to be our boy with a big heart for justice and wrongs to be set right. At present those injustices that he seeks to set right are still very small in contrast to those we hear of around the world and one of our biggest challenges to come will be to know when to introduce more of those events into his world. Parenting books do not cover such issues. We cannot and do not want to shield him forever from such events but he is still only 5 with a deep sensitivity to right and wrong, and justice, there is a need to guard these steps of growing up for him carefully. Not long ago Mark’s saddle was stolen from his bike outside college and this deeply unsettled Bob as he could not comprehend why anyone would do this. For all of his play of soldiers and battle and bravery the real world where grown ups live should operate in a just and fair way. Even today at lunch he wanted to know why in history women have not been respected and been allowed to go to school, an idea he has picked up along the way himself. When I gently tried to explain that this still happened today he could not fathom why I or his sister might, especially if we lived in some other countries be treated unequally or why others would stop other girls and women from education. My heart leapt with hope that even now the seeds of my prayer from Isaiah for our boys was taking hold even in these tender years. It also shows that while at times it may feel they do not listen to the lessons Mark teaches them on how to treat Ruth and myself, they are in fact seeping deep within their thinking and frame.

Zog I think has enjoyed science the most this week though that is no surprise as this term we are focusing on the animal kingdom and he has always been our animal lover. To vary the style this week we have been enjoying the BBC tv series The Wonder of Animals. While Zog has been fascinated in an animate engaged way, Bob, while fully engaged. has wrestled with the realities of the animal world and what it means for carnivorous animals to find their food, challenging his sense of justice and desire to defend the weaker smaller ones.

And it would be wrong to not give a mention to the highlight as ever of our week to Tuesday’s homeschool co-op for art. music and fun at the park doing a nature treasure hunt. It was a glorious day with the leaves an array of wonderful fall colours. For art we made Egyptian necklaces and braclets to go with the headdresses that were made last week so the boys have had fun dressing up as Egyptians.

All in all it has been a week of good food for my soul and I am thankful that the door at this point is open for us to all still be at home making these discoveries as a family. I think this might be one of those reflections I come back to on weeks when we seem to be heading backwards and banging heads. But for now I am going to be thankful and let my heart rejoice in our children and all that God is doing in them that might so easily go unnoticed had I not sat down to reflect and think back over the week.

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reflections on our home learning journey 4

Where last week was a roller coaster this week has simply been. It was not helped with me navigating it with a migraine which has made my mornings somewhat slow and foggy. Lessons at home are also not helped by Kanga teething and unsettled. She has decided that it is high time she was up and walking and so is very frustrated and lets the world know when she finds herself flat on the ground having tried to get from one piece of furniture to another which requires letting go. A report this week indicated low-level disruption in classrooms can hinder learning. Well I know I am not the first home schooling parent this week to remark that the same can be said at home from time to time. But the blessing of being at home is there is room for flexibility and adapting. Which is exactly what we did on Thursday morning when I was re-emerging from my migraine state and everyone was out of kilter. I was encouraged reading an article on the BBC where Richard Branson was speaking of allowing his staff to pick and choose when and how long they took time off work, rather than setting a set amount of annual leave. Staff tended to take time when the team were in a good place work wise, and did not take excessive time away and honoured the team. So with renewed confidence we decided to put lessons to one side and go and run errands in the village and bake a scrumptious chocolate fudge cake. DSCN1788 I am very thankful chocolate is not a trigger for my migraines. Along with the renewed confidence came doubt though as I stepped outside the front door for while we are both very confident of the choice we have made with home education we then have to live it out in community with others who may be supportive, curious, unsure or totally skeptical and I find myself doubting as I ponder what they might think if they see us having fun out and about when ‘surely we should be doing lessons.’ Later that day I then came across an article highlighting the importance of play as a means and end in itself and it not always needing to come with an educational, social or health measured outcome and that children these days do not get enough free play.  I watched my children build bridges and forts with the sofa cushions and remembered their interaction on the rides outside the supermarket and let go of my guilt that I had not set an agenda for their play in the midst of a day ‘off lesson’ and let them have a bucket full of free play and soaked in the enjoyment of their imaginations.

I was reminded on Monday afternoon that large busy groups at the moment are not life giving for me right now, which is hard as our church group is growing and thriving which is exciting to see. But my intention to catch up with lessons in the afternoon instead was a non starter. And my inner self often reacts with panic to that as my personal monologue then tells me that the whole week is going to be a right off and that this whole journey is going to be lost. Yes I tend to over dramatise outcomes. But with a change to our Tuesday routines with art and music with others now being every two weeks I was able to catch up with lessons on Tuesday morning and still do art with my boys. This week it was Egyptian headdresses.DSCN1744 We then all headed to the park for a fantastic fall walk and play with some bark rubbings along the way. That was the highlight of the week seeing Bob and the other children forming friendships and heading off creating dens and fishing and paddling, while the mums re-lived their childhoods collecting chestnuts with the little ones.DSCN1770DSCN1745DSCN1758DSCN1755









With this new pattern for Tuesdays it works well as our church group is every two weeks and so will work in with me being able to not worry about trying to do lessons on a Monday afternoon but can do them on a Tuesday morning, but I will need to be extra organised with dinner for Tuesdays. That is part and parcel the blessing of these days as we adjust and adapt our weeks and work out what is best for us and how much we can all manage. Bob also added into his week french on a Wednesday afternoon at an after school group. He has a love and fascination for languages so we will see how he goes with a modern language as so far his main exposure to languages has been Biblical Greek and Hebrew through his Dad’s study.

This week also found us being asked about ‘socialization’ and the need to ensure our children are getting adequate socialization. In all honesty it is a question I dread because my I am not sure what lies behind the question and so list off any number of ways our children interact with others in the week – home school co-op, church, french class etc. We are not living hermit lives and so I wrestle with why we are always being asked that one question. What is it that causes school families to always come round to that question of homeschooling families? Surely all of us should be seeing our families as starting points for building relationships and that it is from there we move out but why that move outward can only be done by being in a school context from as early an age as possible confuses me.   Just as they are learning all sorts of other basic skills they are not mature enough to necessarily make wise judgement calls in friendship forming.  There will be plenty of time when they are older when they will be out making their own friends and relationships and I want to give them a good grounding in what good, healthy friendships are. And rarely do I get the sense that that is the answer people want when they ask the question. I am not saying that that cannot be done through children going to school  and yes my own experience of school days no doubt impacts my perspective on this but we made the choice together to  home educate and Mark has a positive recollection of school days in contrast. Teaching about relationships can happen in school and parents can train their children as well,  just as leaning to be relational with others can happen through being home educated. My brother and sister in law have sent their girls to school but have been very intentional in getting to know the families of the friends their girls have made and been creative in this with ideas we hope to incorporate with our children as they grow and another family we know intentional chose the home they bought so it would be a place with enough space for their boys and their friends to spend time and her shopping also reflects that their home can be overflowing with a number of teenagers. Either way there needs to be an intentionality to know who our children are building relationships with at any age. I don’t think this paragraph is perfect, I am writing with my own blinkers, I am not trying to be divisive but I have reworked it so many times I am going to let it stand as it is.

Its been the week its been. No great highs, no eureka moments, but we are not who we were a week ago. We have all learnt lessons, all been challenged, we have had to go back to the drawing board to work out what needs adjusting to make the week flow for all of us. We have laughed, we have read, we have had moments to live out loving others, we have had to say sorry to each other and forgive each other. We have needed God’s grace and because of it we have kept putting one foot in front of another.