on saying hello

This is not a researched piece, and I realise that there is generalisations as there are those within the faith community who are fully engaging in these areas but I suspect that for many of us who are by all appearances functioning just fine regardless of the mad kicking of legs under the water to stay afloat are not aware of those organisations. Maybe because like myself there is a sense of not wanting to have to ask for help because we know how thin any support/resources are already stretched and we tell ourselves we can manage if we just worked a bit harder on sorting out our lives ourselves in one area or another. But in my heart of hearts what I read in my Bible and allow God to whisper is something that I so seldom see within churches and I know others are asking the same question of disparity.

I have been genuinely challenged by the number of friends who have shared since I my previous post addressing anxiety. More rather than less have said that I have echoed their own struggles and thoughts. And just tonight the first news headline I heard was that young women are the highest risk for mental health problems. While I don’t fit that age category and my friends are spread across the age spectrum, the reality on the ground is that women in all walks of life and ages are wrestling significantly. I am not a researcher, what I share here is by way of anecdotes, of simply being a friend and sharing conversations. I cannot back everything up with facts and figures and to be honest I don’t want to, though I am sure I could do so if I took the time.

What has struck me though in sharing is that while being vulnerable can be hard and unsettling I have actually felt a deep sense of calm and no anxiety in sharing that post which was the very opposite of what I had anticipated I would feel. I did not feel vulnerable afterwards. I felt a weight lifted off me that I no longer had to pretend to be someone else.

And because of my faith my biggest questions come back to what is the church doing in light of such headlines that young women are at the highest risk of mental health? Is the church engaging with mental health practitioners? Is the church a safe place? Mental health is not just an issue for women, anyone can wrestle with it. And the reality is too many times over the church is not a safe place for many different reasons but this seems such a juxtaposition. If we truly believe that the gospel is good news, that Jesus who at the well with the Samaritan woman, offered her living water and at others times speaks of rest and a yoke that is light then why is the church not a safe place and why are we not engaging in the care of those wrestling with mental health issues and why are we seeing so many, including those who have faith, battle?

What are we doing to engage with the culture around us that is pushing us all to the point of breaking our mental health? As I heard recently the answer to the question ‘how are you?’ is no longer the ambivalant ‘fine’ but ‘busy’. We all need to be seen to be busy, to be stretched to the hilt. Everything needs to be done to the edge of breaking point. And it is no different inside the church it seems to me these days. When someone has time someone else can quickly fill it. Just this past week one mum said that as she grieved that season in life when none of her children were home full time as the youngest had started school she already had people wanting to know if she could fill that time now from 9-3 with extra activities and work. There is no space to breath, to stop, to reflect. We simply have to be busy and doing. Yes there are many good things to do within the life of the church but that does not mean God is calling us to do every one of them.

The church needs to not be afraid of mental health, of emotions, of mess, of medication, of therapy, of the gospel, of the power of the Holy Spirit. The church needs to get back to preaching the gospel of life giving water and extending it in overflowing jugs to those who come parched and weary and broken. With no time limits, no limit on the number of jugs a person can drink from. With no expectations of getting a new volunteer for the Sunday school or tea rota in return.  We need simply to hand out jugs of living water and sit awhile with our friends and invite others to join us.

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Saying hello to myself

A year ago a pediatrician wrote me off as an over-anxious mum and that any issue my child had was most likely down to me. This hurt. Deep down though I feared that for the first time someone saw inside the mess I was hiding and dared name it. He may well not have done it in the best way or given me any helping hand to step forward but he had named that which I feared about myself. I was not the competent adult I so desperately wanted to be and feel I had to be on so many fronts. Our son did have symptoms that were not my doing and that was later recognised by another pediatrician but the first one did speak a kernel of truth.

Inwardly for the past year I have wrestled with God and myself with this truth. I could not ignore it even when others told me not to listen to the pediatrician. This morning a friend shared a link to high functioning anxiety and I sat there reading it as though I was reading a description of myself for the first time. https://themighty.com/2016/06/living-with-high-functioning-and-hidden-anxiety/

Various friends have mentioned their struggles with it over the year and I have cheered them from the sidelines for having the courage I wanted but lacked to say ‘that’s me too’. I have watched from the sidelines as friends have taken action to handle their anxiety, stress, anger and felt another part of me break inside as I watched them step out from chains which I knew were holding me tight. What I am coming to realise is that this is far more normal than the being together that we all try and present to the world around us. This needs a far wider conversation and the church needs to look at how we respond and teach on such passages that speak of life and worry in ways that do not imprison people but allow them to come to the well and receive living water.

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A friend and I went to a Care for the Family event, it was a last-minute decision to go, something I do not normally do but went and God whispered to my soul all evening. Afterwards in a moment of courage I did make contact with a counsellor but for various reasons it is has not worked out to meet up. So part of me says it will be fine I have done it once I can do it again, part of me says see you cannot even sort yourself out, how can you even think of going into ministry? Then my head spins because ministry is the very thing my heart longs to be doing, seeing people living life as Jesus calls us to, but my spinning head sees me as failing utterly to do so myself, therefore being ruled out of such a role.  The timing of all this sucks from where I am sitting because we are one of 2 candidates being considered for a post that we would love.

I have put it down to tiredness, 7 1/2 years into this parenting life and sleep has not been something that we have been blessed with for various significant and typical reasons. I have put it down to perimenapausal reasons. I have put it down to not having roots somewhere and a lack of sense of belonging as we have journeyed down the road of graduate studies and wondered where all this is leading if anywhere as God has not shown any open doors. I have put it down to not enough exercise, not a healthy enough diet. And I have tried to fix all of those parts of my life thinking that once those circumstances are sorted it I will come through and find myself calm and steady and doing just fine and able to prove the doctor that he was wrong.  I have prayed, I have journalled, I have tried to take hold of what the Bible has said literally and felt utterly rubbish on this journey of faith. I was 9 or 10 when I read the words about not worrying and realising I did the very opposite and so I must be rubbish and the lie has stayed with me ever since. Not a great way of living for someone who is longing to believe that the Bible is actually life-giving and inside of me I felt anything but life. I came to faith in a church that had little faith and no one to come along side me so I did what I could and took the Bible in its black and white print and saw only failing and yet a voice kept whispering ‘there is so much more to it than this’ so I have kept putting one foot awkwardly in front of the other doing what I thought I should be doing if I was to fulfil the role so many often called me into – a leader, outgoing, confident. I threw myself into outdoor bound weekends dying inside with fear as I went over cliff edges, as I scrambled up rock faces, capsized in the harbour and canoed.  I stepped up and led and helped and sought to please and do the right thing. And inside I dreaded every step I took, every word I uttered because I was going to fail. And on the rare occasion I dared to step out and take a risk it went horribly wrong in my eyes that it only confounded the sense of fear even more and I shut myself away and lived the life I thought people thought I should be living.

I might well be a leader, I might have actually enjoyed abseling and climbing if I had let myself name the fear and take it on, instead I shut down and gritted my teeth and did what  I talked myself into believing I should do and had convinced others I enjoyed to hide the fear.

I long to go out without calculating every step, every moment. I long to just enjoy life. I don’t want to work out where the escape routes are, the toilets are, the time when we can legitimately leave an event without seeming rude or antisocial. Driving would be useful, and I had lots of ethical/exercise reasons I can name not to drive but the truth is I fear that I will have an accident and destroy someone else’s life so it is better not to drive. I don’t want to look back and say to those who encouraged me that I need to drive ‘told you so’ when I end up in prison for dangerous driving and hurting someone else.

I long to parent without panicking over every response, action, symptom, mood swing I am presented with in myself in our children. I want to breathe so my children can breathe too. Parenting in this place is hard when you are also parenting children who have high sensitivity reactions to various stimuli and I have to be proactive at times to be one or two steps ahead of situations to ensure they can get through events, the next hour and so on. And when one child in particular feeds off your anxiety and the two of you go spinning round and round in circles. While parenting can often bring out parts of our character we have not considered or had to give much heed to before hand I really wish I had said to my younger self for both the sake of my husband, our marriage and our children, “go and get come counselling not because there is a crisis happening but to get myself to a healthy place for what lies ahead.”

Religion does not hold the answers for me, the Bible in black and white print does not hold the answer for me. Faith in Christ does though give me the courage to seek help, His word does speak truths that I cannot speak myself yet. He came for the sick, He came to redeem us in fullness and wholeness. Faith in Christ gives me a relationship which while I often don’t get, frustrates me when His response was not the one I had planned, takes me on paths I would rather not walk but gives me life in a way I cannot give myself. And it is that life I want to live. One that is genuine inside and out, that gives life to those around me. One that can say ‘it is well with my soul’.

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God’s disorientating ways…

I’ve just started reading Ezekiel, and so I thought I’d put a great quote from Chris Wright’s excellent BST (Bible Speaks Today) up about God’s disorientating ways.  I love the way in which in the introduction to the commentary Chris Wright uses imagination rooted in the text to help us picture Ezekiel’s situation.  If you want to go a bit deeper in your own study of the Bible, but aren’t sure where to start then the BST series by IVP is a good place to start, and Chris Wright’s volume on Ezekiel is a great help to getting a handle on where such a large book is going and what it is saying.

In his introduction he points out that as the son of a priest Ezekiel would most likely have expected to be a priest in turn when he reached 30.  Instead Ezekiel is in exile, with the first group of exiles, in Babylon, hundreds of miles away from the temple he should be serving in.  Chris Wright goes on to explain why it would not necessarily have been much consolation for Ezekiel to become a prophet.

As a priest Ezekiel would have a high view of the temple as the central place of interaction between God and people, the place where God lived and where people could have access to God’s eternal home.  It was a place of order, ritual and sacrifice, through which the regularity of God’s relationship with his people and world could be known and seen.   Prophets like Jeremiah called all that into question.  Looking back with the privilege of seeing the whole story we can see how Jeremiah’s message fitted into all that was going on – but at the time it would have been deeply shocking (indeed priests were among those who tried to have him killed) to the establishment.  So Chris Wright writes:

So while we can value all the positive contributions that Ezekiel’s education and training as a priest brought to his prophetic ministry, we must also appreciate the immense personal, professional and theological shock it must have been to him when, in his thirtieth year, the year he ought to have entered on his ordained priestly career, God broke into his life, wrecked all such career prospects, and constrained him into a role he may himself have viewed with considerable suspicion – the lonely, friendless, unpopular role of being a prophet, the mouthpiece of Yahweh.  No wonder the anger and bitter rage to which he honestly confessed disorientated and overwhelmed him for a full week (3:14-15).  God would use all that he had built into Ezekiel’s life during his years of preparation, but he would use it in radically different ways from anything Ezekiel had ever imagined.  Such is sometimes the way of God with those whom he calls to his service.

Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace

That is the title of a book by James Torrance.  I’ve heard the name Torrance a lot, and seen the various different Torrance’s quoted a fair number of times – but never actually read anything directly by them.  So I picked up the above book, and I think I’m going to enjoy it.  Something I used to do a fair bit was to write down quotes that impressed me from my reading, and in the absence of any time to write down my own thoughts (its harder to write them while ‘ignoring’ a restless child who really should be asleep by now), I thought this would be a good place to put the quote that impressed me early in the book regarding the work that Jesus came to do:

“Does God leave all nature to be subject to vanity and futility – to be ruthlessly exploited and abused – and forget he has made using his image for a life of communion and shared stewardship.

The good news is that God comes to us in Jesus to stand in for us, and bring to fulfilment his purposes of worship and communion.  Jesus comes to be the priest of creation to do for us, men and women, what we failed to do, to offer the Father the worship and the praise we failed to offer, to glorify God by a life of perfect love and obedience, to be the one true servant of the Lord.  In him and through him we are renewed by the Spirit in the image of God and in the worship of God in a life of shared communion.

Jesus comes as our brother to be our great high priest, to carry on his loving heart the joys, the sorrows, the prayers, the conflicts of all he creatures, to reconcile all things to God and to intercede for all nations as our eternal mediator and advocate.  He comes to stand in for us in the presence of the Father, when in our failure and bewilderment we do not know how to pray as we ought to, or forget to pray all together.  By his Spirit he helps us in our infirmities.” (James Torrance – Worship Community and the Triune God of grace)

 

Reflections on our home learning journey 44&45/2

(ps – I know ps’ normally come at the end but having just read through this and my last post it seems that my reflections are very similar, but that encourages me that so I am keeping this post in)

Hard to believe another year is now under our belt and 3 weeks of holidays lie stretched out ahead of us between the end of this year and the next. We have now completed 3 years of intentional learning with Bob and now Zog is of age to join in at this level, not that younger siblings are ever excluded and I am sure he will find many lessons familiar as he has joined in and the same is true of Kanga. This evening we will celebrate with pizza and ice-cream and present them with a new book each. Bob is getting an atlas of historical events, Zog a book on anmial habitats with reusable stickers that include a proper African Buffalo and Kanga who loves nature and walks in the woods is getting the complete Brambley Hedge collection – high time she had a few story books that were her own.

Bob having started the year reading confidently has increased that ability and now confidently reads novels and loves to read ahead with bedtime stories. His writing while still needing significant work is coming on and when he is inclined can do a  really good job, it is a matter more of building up the inclination in the first place. One area I have been encouraged in is his maths. Often during lessons it can really feel like we are banging our heads mutually against a brick wall but he loves to go to bed doing maths and has loved the Life of Fred books we have just started. Somehow in the midst of the frustrations of actual lesson time, math concepts are sinking in. There is still lots of just offering up endless numbers for answers in the hope that he will at some point say the right one. I would love to get to the bottom of that issue over the course of the next year and help him slow down and actually think through the possibilities of the answers he offers to see if they really could be the answers. He continues to love history and science and devours books on those topics at a greater rate than I could ever consider to cover. He is going to bed these past few nights with the periodic table in anticpation of chemistry lessons this next year.

Zog is a different child to where he was a year ago. Reflux is improved significantly since we switched his diet and use spelt rather than wheat. This has also improved his sleep which has been good. Also a year without tonsilitis pulling him down has seen him make good strides forward. As for his speech he has come on in leaps and bounds and this has built up his confidence in talking with others and sharing his passions with others. He is really coming into his own. His loves are Buffalos, animals in general, colour and geography. Maps and painting hold his attention for hours on end. He has very different fine motor abilities to Bob and has taught himself to write and is never without pen and paper. The house has stacks of paper with his art work and writing all over the place. He has also started to learn to read having decided himself it was high time he caught up with Bob.

Kanga is soaking the whole world up, hero worships Bob and loves nothing more than getting into mischief with Zog. Just this week a new hair style was in fashion for her thanks to the pair of them. She sees no distinction between their and her abilities and frustration quickly mounts when reality kicks in in regard to what she and they are able to do. Her sense of awareness of others and common sense and practicalites though do put her way ahead of her brothers on that score. Even the other evening when she offered to set the table, in my head I assumed the cutlery of any quantity and form would simply be stacked/strewn across the table, and she had in fact set 5 places properly with knives and folks. She may feel she has alot to learn from her brothers to keep up with them, there is also plenty they have yet to learn from her.

Last week we had alot of fun taking part in a free online art class and the children are all keen for the next one in July 2017. Each day we had a 10 minute video to watch and then had a project to do. There was a FB group where people posted their photos and it was fun to see what others had done and to know that people all around the world were taking part in it. This week has been very gentle, finishing up maths and grammar with plenty of reading, lego and gardening.

Character is an area I felt this year did not get the attention it needed from us. Tiredness, in the moment reactions and letting things go took over in that area. I really do want to be more intentional and thought through on character this coming year. There are many good seeds and much for which we can be thankful for in the character of our children but there are, as with ourselves, weaknesses and traits that need pruning or training and I would like to ensure we give time to that as well as academics.

The coming year holds many new challenges as Zog will be entering into more strucutred learning as well and working out how to keep them both going while also ensuring Kanga is occupied. It will require a step up from Bob in levels of independent work as some of my time will need to be given to teaching Zog. This will stretch him with his writing as I will not always be able to write for him. Our days are going to be longer and fuller and so in areas such as meals and general house blessings I will need to be more creative with my time and organised. This year will also mean a move at some point, be it for a job, another temporary job and knowing that is ahead but not defined is hard.

 

 

Reflections on our home learning journey week 43/2

It has been a week when the heat has sapped us of energy, of ability to pay attention or to think before we act. It has been a week when we have done lessons here and there as and when with lots of breaks in between. It has been a week when we have not ventured far in a desire to conserve energy. It has been a week when I have had reflections and wonderings go round and round as I have watched Bob, Zog and Kanga interact with each other, with me, with the heat and the impact that has had on all of us.

As an introvert I am thankful not to have had the fulness of last week of term that my school parenting friends have had. While some thrive on it and love it I and my children are not those people, I get tired simply reading their Facebook updates.

There has been much to celebrate this week when I consider how far we have come in a year. The last two weeks will give me plenty of time to consider the steps taken, but we are drawing to a close with each of them having made massive headway in their learning.

Bob is reading novels. He has been reading the Chronicles of Narnia, going on ahead under the duvet after Daddy has finished bedtime readings. This week I caught him reading on in Coot Club, our lunch time read. We knew he was reading non fiction but full length stories is a new venture and to be able to hold the whole story in his head and talk about it and often play games around the characters with his other Home Ed friends. The Life of Fred books have given him an end of year boost in confidence for maths and he is loving those and is reading way on with those too. I suspect if I let him he would have the entire elementary series read and completed in a week. They are being strictly rationed. While I enjoyed maths myself it never occurred to me that I would end up having to ration maths books when I became a parent. Though thinking back I do remember my parents reminding me when completing my Leaving Cert ( Irish A Level equivalent) that I had other subjects aside from maths to revise for. He also wrote a book ‘ Bob’s little hand book of animals’. 4 chapters long, each chapter covering one animal with one fact and a picture. To many it may not seem much, but this is massive. He choose to do this in his own time, made the booklet, found out the facts and wrote them down. Aside from writing to the police over a year ago he has never volunteered to write anything before now that was actual words. This was something to celebrate.

Zog has become a vibrant confident speaker, especially when it comes to animals and buffalos in particular. His speech sounds are clear and he is more willing to speak out now that he is confident others will understand him. He continues to love colour and bring colour into all aspects of life. He has also in the last few weeks decided that it is high time he caught up with Bob’s writing, spelling and reading and so has taught himself the alphabet and to write and we are now learning to read. His grasp of letter sounds outstrips both Bob and mine and so is racing ahead with spelling those very useful words, the names of African animals. He loves making the flags of the world from wooden shaped pieces we have and seeing the colours and patterns they make, to go along with his lego maps of continents.

Kanga is sitting beside me with all the early reader books picking out all the pictures of dogs as she has developed a love for dogs. She loves to join in with Zog learning to read and making all the sounds of the letters, though according to her they are all in the word dog; as in d is for /d/ in dog, so is f is for /f/ in dog and b is for /b/ in dog. We have some way to go there but there is plenty of time for that. As with her brothers she is in no rush to use actual words for the most part but is clearly understanding everything and is well capable of making her wishes understood. We suspect she is too busy understanding and making sense of the world around her which can be a very strange one with he two brothers in full flow to bother using a word here or there. Once she gets talking there will be no stopping her though. Her common sense and awareness is in a league of its on in comparison to her brothers and when anything is lost or needs to be got we all turn to her to find the item.

All 3 have done well. There is still lots of learning and growing to do across the board in skills, character and knowledge but we are journeying in the right direction I believe. Opportunities to reflect like this each week encourage me to keep going, where to tweet learning patterns, character traits that need attention which enable us to keep going.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections on our home learning journey weeks 41 & 42/2

I cannot believe another two weeks have gone by. My original plan would have had us having a week off this past week but with the way things have worked this summer and the timing of when we could go away not happening now till August we have pushed on through. There was a reason why we only work 4 or 5 weeks on then a week off normally and I was reminded of that this week come Thursday. We had been doing well and then Bob hit a wall with maths on Thursday and with life in general. His brain was on overdrive and he simply could not sit and take another thing in. So he took himself off to bed with a  book and with our new fractions board and kept a low profile for the day. On Friday he bounced with that on edge bounce he does when his brain is in over drive, whirring and processing. He simply cannot keep going with new learning or staying still. He needs that time to let things percolate and to sift ideas through in his brain and allow it to settle before we move on. He is still whirring away, sifting through all he has being learning.

Over all though we have had a good pattern going with lessons in the morning. A big plus to our days has been the evening and morning routine charts I made for the boys of activities that have to be done around the house within a certain time frame. It is teaching them time management, reducing my asking twice for things to be done, they are getting better at drying dishes and we are reclaiming our evenings. It also means that we are all ready at 9am to start lessons and generally there has been a good attitude toward lessons with both Bob becoming more confident in working independently on set tasks and Zog who is working on basic numeracy and is joining in with spelling. He has also wanted to start to learn to read so we are working on basic letter sound familiarity with him at the moment and as he has been around Bob doing it all he is picking it up very quickly. I realised this morning how far he had come with his reading as he was my companion for the weekly shop today and he was in charge of ticking items off the list.

For various reasons we have missed out on getting to Pitville the last two weeks for Nature Wonderings but a week ago we redeemed the afternoon and took our picnic to the local nature reserve by our house. We had great fun exploring the reserve which has sprung into life in all its richness and fullness of natural wonder.

Bob would still rather not have to write with pen and paper and so for spelling we have come up with salt writing and chalk on the patio as well as the tiles from the All About Spelling material that we use. We have also introduced the Life of Fred into our maths times which we are loving and it is a treat to hear laughter through maths lessons. I had been hesitant to get the Life of Fred despite the number of people recommending it but it is so far proving to be worth the investment.

Between Life of Fred and reading Coot Club while listening to classical music we have had some wonderful relaxed afternoons that have been finished off with everyone colouring in a nature picture similar to the secret garden style pictures and in that mix some great conversations have flowed.

Last weekend the boys took part in a music concert in Gloucester with their choir, singing two songs which they loved doing and continue to sing and act out at home with Kanga following along action perfect. This Saturday the boys and I went along to an event at the Cheltenham Music Festival where they were caught up with some amazing music and paintings of Romeo & Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

As Zog begins to seek more structured lessons it has been a good to see how the coming year will look when both boys are doing formal learning times and how we include more family focused learning around art and music. With Zog’s love of writing and ability to hear sounds and so spell I actually think project work of certain subjects will work well as he will not be needing everything done for him.

Bob’s highlight of the last two weeks is without a doubt getting his first lessons in using a proper saw with Grandad as Grandad and he built a Bee B&B that he wanted to build having watched Springwatch and following on from on of our Nature Wondering sessions on bees.

Another project very much inspired by our creative Zog is to build out of lego maps of the world which they all love to be a part of.

 

Most material for the year ahead has arrived and I am now wondering when the time will be carved out so that I can get ahead and prepped to keep all of them busy and to keep us on track in the year ahead.

I know that throughout the past two weeks there have been moments when I have stopped and wanted to jot something down to reflect on but because of the way the past two weeks have been that has not happened and I can now only recall in general rather than the specifics. I think we are all ready for a break but there are another 3 weeks to go before holiday time.