Kept by God

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”
(Psalms 121:1–8 ESV)

I’m reading through the Psalms at the moment. I had thought I might blog about Psalm 119, but somehow never quite managed it, although I do recommend reading it, and focusing on one 8 verse section at a time – there is an amazing variety to the Psalmist’s praise of God for his word.
Having finished Psalm 119 it was on to the Psalms of ascents. I don’t have much to say about Psalm 120 (but there is an excellent reflection on it in Eugene Peterson’s mediation on the Psalms of ascents – “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”).
Psalm 121 has long been a Psalm I have loved, possibly since it appeared in my pigeon hole at university along with a chocolate brownie and a note of encouragement! I remember it being the focus of Chapel one particular tough week at Regent – and it seemed like the talk that week had been prepared especially for us.
There is something about the first line that resonates – possibly because I have usually lived somewhere where seeing hills is possible – the North Downs, Durham Cathedral, the North Downs again, Vancouver North Shore mountains (these somewhat put anything else into the shade) and now the Cotswolds – not to mention my love of the English Lake District.
That could be a bit misleading however because when the Psalmist looks up to the hills he isn’t thinking “O how pretty, perhaps I’ll talk a walk later”. He is thinking of danger. He is thinking of the fact that hills are the centre for the worship of other gods. He is thinking that he needs help. Which is why it so vital that the LORD (the God of Israel, who rescued them out of Egypt) is the creator God who made everything.
For us it might not be hills that make us think danger. It could be our office, it might be a relationship, it could be our bank statement. It might be anything that could bring danger, or lure us away from God. When we see those things we ask: where does my help come from. And for us too – our help comes from the LORD – who made everything.
Which also means that the hills then become a great reminder of God’s power and strength. As look to the hills I think of the one who made the hills, and I remember that he is the same God who has rescued me. He has the power to do what he says.
And that means the rest of the Psalm is really good news – because it tells us that this creator God keeps watch over us. This creator God does not slumber or sleep – I always seem to read this Psalm after a particularly bad run of nights with one or other child, so this is incredibly good news. His watching over me is a constant.
He keeps me from danger striking me down. He keeps me from all evil – evil has no final power over us. He keeps our life – our life is safe with God. He keeps all our going out and coming in – from now and forever. This keeping is a guarding, a watching over, a constant vigilant care. It doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen – but it does mean that in the bad things there is one who knows and keeps us to the end – we can trust his care for us.
Eugene Peterson puts it like this:

“The difference is that each step we walk, each breath we breath, we know we are preserved by God, we know we are accompanied by God, we know we are ruled by God; and therefore no matter what doubts we endure or what accidents we experience, the Lord will preserve us from evil, he will keep our life…. We Christians believe that life is created and shaped by God and that the life of faith is a daily exploration of the constant and countless ways in which God’s grace and love are experienced. … Faith is not a precarious affair of chance escape from satanic assaults. It is the solid, massive, secure experience of God who keeps all evil from getting inside us, who keeps our life, who keeps our going out and our coming in, from this time forth and forevermore.” (“A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”)

So, reread the Psalm again, and reflect on all the “keep” words – and notice who does the keeping (the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth).

reflections on our home learning week 22

Pondering this week with a very wide awake Bob beside me; who is very excited about his upcoming birthday and trip to grandparents for the week and having spent most of the night awake and then finally crashing on quiet time for the afternoon he is now not ready to sleep. While Zog has bounded off to bed the past couple of nights with delight that he too now has a quilt similar to his older brother. I have been working on it for a long time as spare time has been sparse over the past two years and he is delighted to now have it.

It has been a mixed week for what has been accomplished – writing has been an uphill battle but asking Bob to label the planets on his picture of the solar system was happily done. We were inspired by watching a programme on the solar system one morning; allowing me to finally conquer the mountain range of ironing; to then go on and draw it and write the names of the planets.

For maths I have just come across this new resource which looks like it will become apart of our journey with numbers. http://www.playdoughtoplato.com/15-editable-math-fact-games The boys have already enjoyed doing a maths fact treasure hunt and solving the clues. There are more resources on this site that I suspect we will be investigating. I have made peace with the fact that I am not a technological whizz nor do I have the time or mind to come up with creative ideas and that I am willing to spend a little money and make great use of other people’s work. As my father used to say when I was growing up there are folk out there qualified to do repair work in the home and there is no shame asking them to do it instead and then paying them a fair price for a good job done.

It was also great talking through homeschooling with a friend this week who is considering it. While thinking about the conversation it gave me time to see where we had come from and the lessons we had all learnt along the way. Thankfully it reaffirmed for me that this was the right choice for us as a family and that I am thankful that it is possible for us to be doing it. There are still days when fear is the bedrock I am standing on that impacts my expectations, patience and confidence and hope and then in contrast there are days when I am free to be confident and in turn the children are free to be themselves and all round lessons are learnt with ease and willingness and joy and there is a greater level of co-operation.

Kanga has been teething this week non stop it feels like and so many activities have had to be done with her in the sling, swaying and speaking over a disgruntled girl but so long as the boys have had a look in on my time they are unphased by Kanga’s frustrations even if they distract me.

In many ways it feels like it has been a normal week with no major high, lows, accomplishments but then again that mountain range of ironing was dealt with while learning about the solar system and our bedroom got a good tidy up in one of those beautiful hours when all three are playing together happily for an extended time. Moments like that, when I peer into Bob’s room and see all three playing and building lego are blessings to me.

Now for a weekend before a week of Mark staying home to write write write and for us to all go to grandparents. While we are taking lesson material with us I doubt I will get to reflect next Friday I will be assembling a young boy’s Egyptian pyramid cake to celebrate him turning 6. Where have those years gone?

reflections on our home learning 19, 20 and 21

So this has not been a good winter for us with bugs. The latest visitors were croup for both Kanga and Zog and on top of that for Zog he continues to battle recurring tonsilitis and this time scarlet fever got added into the mix. So, little sleep or sanity has existed round here for some time. The weather has not been our friend either, though Bob and Kanga are more up for bright cold days, Zog neither likes the cold or has the energy thanks to rounds of tonsilitis to cope with getting cold, that getting out has been next to impossible and so why not add in some serious cabin fever and a week with Mark away and you can understand why there have not been reflections these past few weeks.

If nothing else this year is teaching me to remember that we are not trying to replicate school style learning at home. We are learning at home in a way that works best for us as a family and plays to each of the children’s strengths in ways that is not possible in school. There are days when ‘lessons’ with worksheets have happened and there are days when learning happens under the duvet reading book after book. There are days when I am very thankful to iplayer and the wonderful history and science/nature programmes that the BBC do. There are days when the heart and character are given attention over writing and addition. There are days when play has been the order of the day.There have been days when I have had to use my best negotiating skills I have to solve disputes of volcanic potential. There are days when simply getting food on the table is a win. There are days when I have been so thankful to friends who have shown up with dinner. There are days when I love this journey and days I question every decision I have ever made in my life. There are days when comments from others don’t even get noticed and days when they knock me for six.

There are also changes in dynamics amongst the troops as Bob is becoming more Daddy orientated and all craft work is made for Daddy. Daddy has become the go to person. And at the same time he now offers to help me more with tasks around the house and I am learning to draw him into those moments which then become more than the quick momentary job I was going to do but he is learning what it means to take care of a home. And I believe one reason he is doing that is both in spending time with me in new ways but also because he sees his Daddy doing things around the house so it is not a woman’s only role. He has heard me say that I want to do this for Daddy and for the family at times and so he too wants to help me take care of the home for Daddy. While this is a stepping stone we celebrate in Bob, his younger brother is somewhat unsure of this change as he is still very much in the world of play and Mummy and he senses Bob growing up in a way that he is not rightly ready for. This can bring its moments but also I have come to be thankful for learning at home so that there are still plenty of moments of play between them and space for their relationship and friendship to continue to grow and deepen. One of the richest times for me recently has been watching the two of them curl up together on the sofa with a stack of books and go between independent reading/looking at books, to times of Bob reading aloud to Zog and the joy in Zog’s face having his big brother read him his favourite books and the quiet satisfaction in Bob’s face as he does so.

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Learning at home however you do it, whatever pattern of structure or unstructured you go with has incredible highs and lows but the reaches of the highs do make up for the deepest depths. And having gritted your teeth through a lesson or 10, thinking nothing is going in, at some point the connection will be made and in the middle of a conversation you will hear your child say or explain something and realise they have never not been learning and can also apply ideas to real life situations which is ultimately what you want them to be able to do.

Bob is now more confident in telling people he learns at home rather than go to school and it was fun to sit back and listen to him and the barber the other day have a lengthy discussion about the Egyptians and the Valley of Kings. And very thankful for a barber who seems willing to talk history with him. Also this term our craft projects which are more often than not history based have taken on a 3D reality which is creating a new dilemma of where to keep such projects. I do photograph them to put in his folder but they have taken him time and effort and I don’t want to discard them straight away.

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Half way through this year I am also gaining understanding of how we are doing and how I work best and while I would love to be original in our activities and come up with my own lessons I simply do not have the time or energy and so have bought a couple of work books to go with curriculum that we are using to provide me with step by step lessons rather than trailing the internet and my brain for ideas for the topic. It has taken the pressure off me and gives me the freedom if I do want to do something different but on days when I need it there it is. And as we look to next year I am feeling more confident of what we will need and ensure I spend wisely but don’t do it on thin air either. The other lesson that a friend and I were talking about recently is that we need to plan our lessons beyond Christmas because Christmas time does not give you that time you think back in August that you will have to plan the next term and you find yourself trying to cajole children who can see right through your lack of planning on dark wet days and pity parties and frustration take up residence.

But the evenings are now getting brighter, there is hope to be had and books to be read, lego to be built, walks to be taken and maybe one night sleep to be had. And learning is always happening, the question as parents we need to be attentive to is ‘ what are they being exposed to and therefore what are they learning?’

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Strength in the Name

A good few years ago now I remember enjoying this Vineyard song:

You are the sovereign I Am,
Your name is holy
You are the pure spotless Lamb,
Your name is holy…

You are the Almighty One,
Your name is holy
You are the Christ, God’s own Son,
Your name is holy

In Your name, there is mercy for sin
There is safety within, in Your holy name
In Your name, there is strength to remain
To stand in spite of pain, in Your holy name

I remember too enjoying it all the more after a terms worth of study in the book of Exodus, as the reality of just who the sovereign I am demonstrates himself to be in history came home.  I came across the following quote which I must have first read at a similar time, but wrote down some time later, just before beginning my PhD work.   It is from a lesser known Puritan writer and is one to allow to sink deep into your soul, especially if, like me, you are prone to forgetting where your identity comes from and is secured by:

The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.

Exodus 34:6-7

“Well, you say, but though God is able to help me, I fear that God is not willing to help me, and therefore I am discouraged.

But be of good comfort, says the Lord, for my name is Merciful, and therefore I am willing to help you.

But you say, though the Lord is willing to help me, yet I am a poor unworthy creature and have nothing at all to move God to help me.

Yet be of good comfort, for the Lord says again, My name is Gracious.  I do not show mercy because you are good, but because I am good.

Oh, you say, but I have been sinning a long time, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years.  If I had come to you long ago, I might have had mercy.  But I have been sinning a long time, and therefore I fear there is no mercy for me.

Yet, says the Lord, be of good comfort, for my name is Slow to anger.

Oh, you say, but I have sinned extremely, so many sins that I am never able to reckon up and to humble myself for them, I have broken all my promises to God and all the vows I made to him, and therefore I am discouraged.

Yet, says he, be of good comfort, for I am abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.  Are you abundant in sin?  I am abundant in steadfast love.  Have you broken faith with me?  Yet I am abundant in faithfulness also.

Oh, but though the Lord is all this to his chosen ones like David, Abraham and Moses, yet I fear the Lord will not be this to me.

Yes, says the Lord, keeping steadfast love for thousands.  I have not spent all my mercy on David or on Abraham or on Paul or on Peter, but I keep mercy for thousands.

Oh, but my sins still recoil on me.  I am the greatest sinner in the world, for I have sinned all kinds of sin.  I fear there is no hope for me.

Yet, says the Lord, be not discouraged, for I forgive iniquity and transgression and sin, even all kinds of sin.  This is my name forever.

Oh, but I am afraid to lay hold on this promise, for I think this is a doctrine of license.  Do not say that, says the Lord, who will by no means clear the guilty.

But if there is ever a poor, drooping, fearing, trembling soul that desires to know my name, here, says the Lord, is my name by which I will be known forever.

The name of God quiets the heart against all discouragements.”

William Bridge, A Lifting Up For The Downcast (London, 1961), pages 270-272.  Slightly edited

reflections on our home learning 19

It seems as if January can be declared ‘written off’ if I am going by the planned and set out schedule that I drew up. This week’s interruptions have included ear ache for Bob which means no sleep for him, tonsillitis yet again for Zog (finally getting refered to the ENT team at the hospital) and miserable itching eczema from Kanga, two trips to the doctors and plenty of broken sleep for all and exhaustion. After another go slow day on Monday I panicked on Tuesday and tried to push Bob through some lessons but all that was accomplished was a very frustrated Bob and Mummy who both reacted in ways we later were sorry for and a grace filled moment was found on the bedroom floor as we owned up to our wrong doing and asked for forgiveness. We also managed to have a wonderful afternoon out that day with other homeschool friends at the park and enjoyed a milder day than a week ago. Wednesday we discovered on iplayer the joys of Winterwatch and have one more session to get caught up on. That has been the spring-board for all our learning for the rest of this week as Bob has made duplo cameras and role played being a wildlife camera man for the rest of the day, at times also re-enacted the flight or attempting to re-enacting the flight of the golden eagle and European eagle owl or scurrying around as a pine martin.  There has also been much lego building and the sight of Bob reading to Zog reassures me that he is learning despite the interruptions.

It has been one of those weeks when I have been reminded that how I react is how they learn to react to situations and so I need to take a deep hard look at my responses, but am thankful I am doing that with God and there is redemption and hope with Him. Also that the children are constantly learning and absorbing and while that sometimes means they are learning unhealthy reactions as mentioned they are also learning lots of great things about a whole variety of topics and interests even if the day has not included one ounce of my scheduled lesson plan, but then again why learn at home if we cannot be flexible and adjust to the season we find ourselves in. Another week when I have had much to learn and give thought to.

reflections on our home learning 18

It has been a week of the full mix finishing with a new set of colds for the younger members of our family. Moments of love and wonder and joy at the opportunity to home educate to moments (at times prolonged moments) of wondering where to find a boarding school all three could go to at moments notice. The blessing of writing these reflections lets me recall that in the midst of some tough moments there was lots of great learning and creativity going on with maths taking a knock so we may need to have some fun with numbers tomorrow. We are reading The Trumpet Swan this week and are enjoying that, partly helped along by seeing our swan family on our nature walk on Tuesday and seeing the four cygnets almost a year old now with their parents. They still have some grey feathers but they are looking more and more like adult swans now.

History on Wednesday led to a fun day making Phoenician trading ships and war ships which the boys have loved playing with. Am so glad I went with Bob’s spur of the moment creativity inspired by the pictures of the boats as we read about the Phoenicians. Thankfully he opted for making the boats and not trying to boil snails for 10 days as they did, mixed with lemon juice to obtain the purple dye they were known for.

Today was one of those days which was taken over by the need for the plumber come and sort out a radiator but that left us confined to the sitting room with no heat or water and not realising that the job would take 5 hours. Other plans would have been made if I had known in advance. Again Bob’s creativity came up trumps and he and Zog after lunch got out their ‘how to’ drawing books and created some fun art work. One thing I am learning this week is that in moments when I am feeling trapped and frustrated is to trust Bob’s creative ideas and run with them even if they take me out of my neat ordered comfort zone. Because on each occasion the day has been turned around in that moment and we have been able to move forward.

Those fore mentioned colds are interrupting sleep so I need to leave reflecting here for now.

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reflections on our home learning 17

Another week draws to a close, though we do still have another day to go this week as we took time off this week. Having dived into lessons on Monday morning before heading to Praise and Play at church without taking into consideration the busyness of the weekend just gone we hit exhaustion on by lunch time. Well Bob did and in his usual style that meant also being wide awake with a brain on overdrive from 1-5am. We have come along way though in dealing with those long nights and so we moved Zog in with me and Mark went and slept in with Bob while he relaxed with Paddington DVDs on loop. He doesn’t make a fuss or create a battle and we have learnt that trying to get him to sleep is a futile exertion of the little energy we have at that time of night. And it will only cause further disruptions as it will trigger resistance and night terrors when sleep does come. This way Bob relaxes, and we all get sleep and then the next day he chilled at home and by Wednesday was back in fine form but as there was the lightest scattering of snow, the first we have had in a couple of years of any description there was no way anyone was going to be paying any attention and so tomorrow brings with it some more lessons.

Zog and Kanga this week have started French, their class is on a Tuesday morning so while Bob stayed at home with lego and Mark who was grading papers, I took the younger two into town to their French class. Zog was very excited by the idea of his own class and loved it till about half way through when he wanted to go home to Bob again. While they have their moments they are fantastic friends and love doing most things together. My prayer is that this friendship will deepen and strengthen as they grow.

We also decided to purchase our own copy of an animal encyclopedia we have renewed and renewed for the last 6 months from the library. The boys were delighted when it arrived in the post and it has been required bedtime reading every night since. The animal kingdom is incredible and I am loving discovering more and more about the wonderous creation around us and the creativity of our God to come up with the incredible diversity not just of different animals but the diversity within animal groupings. Spiders once dusted away now need to be looked at to work out what type it is. Ok so I would still rather dust them out but I am not allowed to as they are ‘beautiful creatures’ but so are snakes, eagles and many other animals as far as Bob is concerned though his comfort zone for many animals is the pages of his much-loved encyclopedia whereas Zog would love to go to a wildlife park or farm and actually see some of these animals in the flesh.

It has been a week for me where we have progressed through lesson plans and schedules as I am aware of what was let slip with illnesses before Christmas and want to do better on track and am still working out what this all looks like with three at home, two of whom are not yet ‘school age’. Yet Bob and increasingly Zog would be very happy for me to sit and read books with them all day long in their new castle tent, covering picture stories, novels, history and science with occasional breaks to build. Bob this week has discovered the joys of being left alone with selotape, cardboard, scissors and markers and allowed to do as he pleases. I see the way forward being a home filled with cardboard creations of all sorts stored high out of reach of sister’s destructive curious hands. It has been a week when I have felt the weight of responsibility for the choices we have made for our children and in parenting them and wishing I knew how it was all going to turn out. I do not have a crystal ball and that is a good thing. What I have now is this day that God has given me and for which He has prepared good works for me to do and I believe that within those good works is the raising of our children and for us at this point as a family that includes home learning. He has called us to be Bob, Zog and Kanga’s parents with all our strengths and failings today; and that decisions while they play a role in the future need to be made in relation to today. Jesus calls us not to worry about tomorrow, to not worry about what we will eat or wear. I need to lay down my fears and worries about how it will all turn out and live in the moment with our children and walk through this day with them, teaching them and helping them. Sometimes that living will look like structured lessons, other times curled up reading, other times on the floor playing games, other times baking with 3 extra pairs of hands, other times trying to get the bathroom cleaned from start to finish in one go or laundry put away. I have a feeling Bob is going to grasp the fact 7 = 5+2 or 2+5 and 7-5=2, 7-2=5 and that those answers will not change from the start to end of the maths lesson quicker than I will learn to lay down my fears for the future even if in the moment of teaching him I wonder otherwise and I realise how differently God and I understand the concept of time and patience.