Not really a PhD update, but kind of…

Hitting the wall – it’s how distance runners talk about that part of the race where you feel you just can’t run any further. When the body is screaming, and every fibre of your being wants to give up. At least so I believe, but I’ve never run far enough to feel like that.
However on many levels life right now feels something like that. In terms of energy levels, in terms of sleep deprivation, in terms of work for PhD and in relation to figuring out what next. We’re coming to the end of the three year chunk of time we’ve devoted to getting PhD done, and on almost every level of life it feels like these last few months are just such hard work. With two out of three children not sleeping solidly through the night, each night is interrupted in one way or another, and when that is combined with number 2 having his tonsils out this week tiredness rockets. Job applications have been made, and we wait to hear. We try to live now, but the next steps take the energy.

So my plans to do a PhD update have never quite reached fruition. Every time I think about it, I think I could actually do some PhD work instead. Right now however my brain is not up to any actual work, but I need to process my thoughts somehow in this crazy time – so this is a kind of processing related to the process of a PhD.
The PhD is “nearly” there. All the blocks are waiting for the final assembly process, and some of the blocks need some reassembling. I’ve got an overall summary done, I know what the conclusions are I’m working towards. It does all make sense – but all the pieces need their final crafting, and some things need to be cut out. When my head is panicking it feels like I’m playing a game of Tetris with the pieces, at the point when the speed is advancing and the screen filling up fast – and that the pieces are starting to be those rather long awkward shaped ones and I don’t have the space to rotate them properly.
It seems to sum up the rest of life really. Just as we think we’ve got a space, a time to regroup, something altogether new and different falls from the sky, and we’re wondering how on earth this new piece is going to fit. In the midst of all this I’ve been reading Proverbs recently and as I reach chapter 9 I’ve been really struck by the call to search diligently for wisdom and insight. I’m also really struck by the way in which this wisdom and insight begin with the fear of the LORD, and the knowledge of the Holy One (9:10).

It is summed up in the familiar words of chapter 3:15 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart (intellect and emotions together in the Bible), and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.” I do not have all the information I need to make sense of what God is doing and how he is doing it right now.

I’m in a similar place to our 3 year old. We took him to hospital yesterday morning – he was fine. Mysteriously he was then taken to a room, fell asleep with a mask on his face, woke up in a strange room and then woke up again in a bed. Now his throat feels like agony, and he’s distinctly groggy and whoozy. What has happened? We know he’s had his tonsils out and will feel better in a few days/a week or so, and that he won’t get tonsillitis again every month for the coming year. But he doesn’t know that right now. Right now it’s just a bit confusing and it hurts.

So with us. And so often in life this is how it is with God. We don’t have the information. We just have to trust – and keep moving forward. Right now it is really, really hard to do that. I was encouraged, and almost brought to tears singing these words recently in church:

You are wisdom unimagined
Who could understand your ways
Reigning high above the heavens
Reaching down in endless grace
You’re the lifter of the lowly
Compassionate and kind
You surround and You uphold me
Your promises are my delight

Even what the enemy means for evil
You turn it for our good
You turn it for our good and for Your glory
Even in the valley You are faithful
You’re working for our good
You’re working for our good and for Your glory (Aaron Keyes)

Vital words – and having been buried in Exodus 32-34 for a while reminding me of the vital realities, that above all else God is compassionate and kind. He is good. Most wonderful of all his glory is his goodness. He displays his glory to Moses by showing him his utter goodness. He displays his glory most fully to us by his body stretched out on a cross for us.

For now what we need is the wisdom to trust, and the strength to put our feet forward for another day. That is what we need this night, and that is what we need in the new day. Wisdom and strength that come from the God who holds us and loves us, even as he carries out his surgery on our lives.

reflections on our home learning journey 33

Really, it is Friday again. Not sure where this week has gone. Lessons have happened thought it feels like a week of walking through treacle and that is not just the children. I think part of it is that I had anticipated this being recovery week for Zog as he was due to have his tonsils out but a bed shortage meant it is not till next week. Grandparents had been lined up to visit and we all decided just to keep those visits in place so that was fun.

Zog has started to insist on helping with the preparation of every meal which is lots of fun but also means one needs to allocate extra time and extra cheese and peppers to any meal as they get nibbled along the way. It is great to see his love of cooking emerging as we know Bob loves being in the kitchen. And then if Zog is in the kitchen Kanga needs to be to and no longer in a high chair off to the side but on a proper chair like her brother so cooking means a helper for both hands. It is also a telling sign of how Bob is growing as he now is basically able to stand at the counter and work without a chair to stand on.

Bob continues to walk around this life with a book in hand and is reading signs whenever we are out and about and comes out with comments that take you a minute to register that what he has asked or questioned is because he has just read something you never noticed before.

All the material I had ordered for next year has shown up which is exciting and it has been fun to browse through. Still need to get the science material though, Mark needs to steward a few more weddings and baptisms first. Having learnt the hard way this year that I am not a computer person and computers are not reliable and how little printing you get for a cartridge even if you do run it right down we have pushed the boat out and bought hard copies of the material so everything is to hand wherever we find ourselves.

It has been a very ordinary week, I have been able to tick things of my redundant list, it has been very low key. There has been lots of play in the garden and Bob has got in some good cycle rides. It has been life and I am thank for it.

reflections from our home learning week 32

Some weeks just do not go as planned – this week’s interruptions to normal schedule were me being hit hard by a cold and Zog falling and giving his knees a new look and shape (thankfully just soft tissue swelling). A day in bed to rest allowed me to get a head start on next years planning and buying books which I always enjoy. We have also jumped on Bob’s passion for being out in the garden and tidied up the flower tubs and planted sunflower seeds and today the boys planted up hanging baskets with Nana. Bob has also been enjoying watching gardening programmes this week which has been a blessing as I have kept the makers of tissues in business. He is also somewhat overtired and frustrated having tried on numerous evenings to stay up late enough to see Venus having watched a programme on it but as it is not dark till late he is falling asleep without seeing it but later than normal.

Photos have captured my reflections this week in contrast to the lack of photos the past few weeks. They include the garden and nature walk. The final one with framed photos is the result of Bob’s wildlife photography lesson a few weeks back.

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reflections on our home learning 31

This has been a week where writing has brought an unexpected joy to my soul. Thursday Bob was sitting down writing a list of words which to be honest when he said he was doing it I paid little attention. I was assuming it was his usual style of writing, lots of many wavy lines with no actual sign of any letter formation. As I passed him by on my way upstairs I noticed that he was actually writing a list of words he knew how to spell, a skill I was unaware he had. He then followed me upstairs and sat on our bed while I hung the laundry and announced ‘I am Homer, no actually I am more likely one of the many Greek scribes Homer had to write the Greek myths and I am writing my first one.’ And proceeded to write his first Greek myth involving Odysseus who was washing, Ajax who was eating a ham sandwich and Achilles who was watching TV. It may not be an epic Greek myth that will last the test of time but it has made this heart of mine soar. Only the day before I had been mentioning to my Dad that writing was just not happening at the moment and he said it will come in time, little was I expecting it to come the next day in such style. My second moment of joy with writing this week then came this evening with Zog. Zog is also left-handed and has always held his pencils incorrectly and has refused any hint of correction while he draws endless pictures. This afternoon while Bob was at Forest School he found in the school shelf a folder of traceable letters and sat down and worked his way through all of them on his own asking me to identify each letter and then name a word that starts with it. The highlight though was when I noticed that he was holding the pen correctly while doing it. In his own time and space he has worked it out for himself. I am a strong believer in not pushing learning early hence why we will not start letter of the week material till September just before he turns 4 but am happy to let them explore and learn at their pace too so do not stop projects any of them take on.
Earlier today I read an article about ‘doing nothing’ with our children and the benefits that come from actually giving them the space to be bored so that they have to be creative. For us that has been easily done with little income or car and living in a village and with three little ones. There are days when it is hard but that is usually when I have to respond to the question ‘what do I do all day? That reminder fitted in well this week for me with a meeting I was part of on Wednesday and we talked about the importance of our lives flowing from a place of being rather than doing. I hope somewhere along the line in the way we are chosing to life we are establishing that idea in our children now that will stand then in good stead in later life. That they will define their lives and choices out of a place of being and my prayer is that it will be a place of being in God rather than self-identity with what they can achieve and do.

It is easy to think I should be filling their days with more structure and external activities but two days a week is plenty and I believe that one of the benefits to flow from this space of being is Bob’s love of words and reading. This morning for an hour he and Zog had created a hut for themselves where Bob read and read and read to Zog, so I have to remember that while I may not get to read as much to Zog or Kanga as we did with Bob, Zog is not missing out because alongside our reading Bob is also reading and in mastering books he is more than happy to re read books time and again which is just what Zog loves as with any 3-year-old but can drive parents crazy.

if you were to ask the boys their highlight of this week was an outing to Birdworld with grandparents and cousins as I had to travel across to Fleet for a meeting. So Mark took the children to meet up with the rest of the family and despite the less than friendly weather the boys had a great time. They were then delighted when a package arrived from the RSPB today of lots of posters about different types of birds so they were busy spending time identifying which birds they saw at Birdworld, in the garden and at the park.

This has been an encouraging week for me as I have been reminded in reading and watching the boys that if we give them space they learn and work things out for themselves. It is often the fear of new homeschoolers will their children really learn to read and write etc and our fears are met with reassurances from veteran homeschooling parents that yes they will learn and they will be able to read and write but the doubt lingers till you see your first child do it. This is one of those weeks for me when I can start to believe that they were right and build the confidence to ensure that what I need to do is to teach them, provide them with opportunity, give them space and then trust them to be busy learning all the time in all they do and let them work skills out for themselves.

reflections on our home learning 30

This has been a week that reminded me why we are doing learning this way and how much fun it can be and how some weeks do go really well. I still have some way to go on working out how to navigate lessons with Kanga as she is now mainly only having one nap after lunch. I am trying to tie that in with the boys quiet time so that I also get some rest time in the day as that makes a big difference to the way the afternoon goes. Her lessons this week have had a numerical theme to them with counting to 60 (that is listening to me count) numerous times on the stairs for certain actions of hers, mainly toward to her younger older brother.

Maths, reading, grammar, writing, history, science, French, out-door time, crafts, nature, forest school and conquering cycling have all had a look in this week and been encouraging times. It was great to see Bob decide to get his bike out this week after a break from it and just take off by himself and also be able to control it and stop when needed. His shoes may not last long with his style of stopping but to be fair to him that has more to do with the brakes needing sorting than his lack of use of them.

It has been great fun reading Greek Myths with him, reading a page each. The book we are reading at present is http://www.hive.co.uk/book/the-orchard-book-of-first-greek-myths/9631724/ with lovely illustrations. We are also reading a chapter books to him at bedtime though I suspect that he is carrying on reading after we have left as he often seems to know what is coming once we read the book the next day.  Bob’s love of history continues and all play takes on some form of the period of history we are in. We seem to have been in the Greeks for a long time but he is loving every minute of it. He has been after a Greek soldiers outfit for ages so we finally got to making one this week following his detailed plans based on the various books we have.

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Scribing maths and his science and history reports for him based on his narration has boosted his confidence and motivation to learn now that the pressure is off him for writing at the moment. As soon as any writing comes along then the attitude changes but I just need to remind myself that last week when he was so angry about the motorcyclist in the park he came home and wrote to the police so I know he can do it when he wants to and it is about something that matters to him. The outcome of that letter was a visit from the police last weekend with a letter for him thanking him for his letter and a goodie bag which in the moment saw Bob go very quiet but afterwards he stayed up needing to make his police lego van once they went. Of course the moment the police choose to visit was 15 mintues before Sabbath dinner was ready and as is want with young boys clothes were somewhat lacking by that point in the day and Zog and Kanga had entertained themselves quietly by finding all the shallots and onions and peeling them leaving a lovely floor covering.

It is also that time of year that I along with many other families are looking out for what books we will use next year which I always enjoy. Next year I Bob will do a mix of year 1 and 2 as alot of the material we use is from the States and so we have done a mix of levels for here and there. I will also do some more ‘structured’ activities with Zog using http://www.confessionsofahomeschooler.com/letter-of-the-week which we also used with Bob and he loved. Zog has had access to the material this year and loves them but it has all been in a free style way and so I will look to be more intentional with activities with him. All in all we are still willing to keep going along this journey and seeing what opportunites come along next year wherever we may find ourselves calling home

reflections on our home learning journey 29

Well it was not the week I had planned but neither am I writing the week off totally. I returned Monday after my first fun weekend away from the children and Tuesday was going to see a new pattern established as all 3 now have French on Tuesdays. Wednesday the plumber was due to come for the day to sort out our radiators with the possibility of the job spilling into some of Thursday morning. And so my back up plan for Wednesday was to take my friend up on her offer to use their home as a base for the day. Thursday we were due our visit from the LEA (Local education authority) and Friday Matthew was having a field trip (more about that later).

Tuesday rolled around and we had French for all followed by a picnic with other home educating families at the park and pond dipping. And while this is what the boys wanted to do and not miss, in reality and hindsight what was needed to set us up for the week and to regroup after the weekend was a day where it was just us. And I really should have known and responded to that having spent the train journeys that weekend reading a great book called The Highly Sensitive Child, which highlighted the wiring and workings of our boys and the best ways to help them flourish with their character. But I risked it thinking we would make up for it all on Wednesday with down time. Also for Zog the new boots were not comfortable and he was peopled out and so hid in the stroller for most of the time the others were pond dipping. Bob has grown up so much and is able to stretch himself further now as he had great fun in the moment and hold it together his limit was reached once home and this has impacted his sleep this week as he tries to get back on an even keel. Having read the book though I have found myself able to respond with less frustration to his actions when in this place of reaching his limit as I can now see where he is coming from and why.

Tuesday night I learnt that my friend was not able to offer her house as a base for us and then the plumber showed up on Wednesday morning and it quickly became apparent this was a three day job and that there would be no water each day. This was not my plan and I postponed the LEA visit as that was going to be one too many things to juggle. Just like Bob I do not do well with sudden unexpected changes of plans and so all this change to my neatly thought through planned week left me in a complete spin along with other things going on for Mark and I that had come up unexpectedly. Everything becomes too much and I become useless in thought and action and crazily emotional. I think I might need to get a copy of the book the Highly Sensitive Person for myself by the same author. In the end we went with Mark into town and played at college and had a picnic tea. On the walk through the park from the bus to college we came across a lad riding a small motorbike at speed and no consideration for others in the park across the paths and grassy areas. Bob was most put out by this and on our return home he wrote a letter to the local police which he then took to the post office the next morning and bought a stamp and posted it. So without even trying writing and maths and independence were all being lived out without him thinking about it as he does with ‘lessons’ . Thursday we spent at the local park and library. I was very thankful Kanga slept for most of the time we were at the park so I could give the boys some time and it was so much fun to watch them play together completely immersed in their own imaginary world, which often is the combination of their own worlds which they navigate to bring together into one so that they can play together. And considering that Zog has declared that he is a real African buffalo ( the ‘real’ being stressed as real buffalos don’t have their hair washed apparently) this can make their games amusing when Bob is either being a Greek fighting the Trojans or a policeman catching robbers or a hunter. Yes we have reached that point when all sticks become weapons of some sort of other. Today we cocooned ourselves upstairs in our room as the boys had made it quite clear they were no longer interested in going out and to give them their due they played really well on our bed and accepted the situation with no complaint. Which in itself showed how much they needed so home time this week. For such a time as this I had a new game (from our local charity shop) which has provided hours of fun as they built shapes and objects and buffalos with up and down horns out of magnet rods and balls. I also managed to get some actual maths done with Bob as he used the magnets to do his sums before he realised what I was doing.

The highlight though for Bob this week has been his field trip this afternoon to Pitville Park for a wildlife photography lesson. He has become fascinated with wildlife photography thanks to Winter and Springwatch and so a friend of ours from church who is a keen photographer took Bob and Mark out for a lesson at the park and by the level of chat and excitement when they got home I think we can safely declare a great time was had. And as a treat they got to see a Great Crested Grebe which we had not come across before and we have been doing nature walks at that park every week since last summer. We will have to wait until our friend sorts out the photos to see the finished results.

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Learning has happened this week in bucketfuls. Not the way and means I had intended at the start but it has happened for all of us in different ways. I still have my dreams and ideals but we also have a gift of three incredible blessings to raise and they do not come neat and tidy and consistent. They come as they come in all their fullness and I am learning to learn with them and adapt rather than coerce them and myself.

The source of all strength, hope and joy…

I’ve nearly finished reading through the Psalms.  Last Sunday I had the wonderful gift of being able to go for a half hour stroll in the fresh morning sun, and then sit for half an hour or so in order to read and ponder Psalm 145, which begins:

“I will extol you, my God and King
and bless your name for ever and ever
Every day I will bless you
and praise your name for ever and ever.

I guess with my current studies in mind the word “name” was always going to leap out at me, immersed as I am in Exodus and the way in which the meaning and  significance of God’s name develops through the book.  But it wasn’t those studies that my mind leapt to first, rather it was a number of songs that have had significance for me over the years.  I remembered song lines such as:

You are the Sovereign I am
Your name is holy
You are the pure spotless lamb
Your name is holy

In Your name
There is mercy for sin
There is safetly within
In Your holy name

In Your name
There is strength to remain
To stand in spite of pain
In Your holy name

(Brian Doerksen)

This week at a prayer meeting in church we sang:

In the name of the Father
In the name of the Son
In the name of the Spirit
Lord we’ve come

We’re gathered together
To lift up Your name
To call on our Savior
To fall on Your grace

Our God saves, our God saves
There is hope in Your name (Paul Baloche)

We know, and the Psalmist knows, that the name of God is hugely significant.  However, not many of our songs spell out why this is so.  What struck me about Psalm 145 is that it is all about the name of God.

v3-7 are a call to praise this God, and in particular for one generation to tell to the next of the sheer greatness of God.  God’s works, God’s mighty acts, God’s wonders, God’s awesome (fearsome) deeds – all of these things are to be recounted, and all these things tell of the “glorious splendour of his majesty”.  But what is this glorious splendour all about?  We begin to get a hint in verse 7 where the call to praise culminates in speaking of the fame of God’s abundant goodness and his righteousness.  God is not just glorious in the sense that he is King and Sovereign (although he is), he is glorious because he is good and upright.

That comes home in the next verses:

8 The LORD is gracious and compassionate
Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

9 The LORD is good to all
and his compassion is over all that he has made (all his works)

Verse 8 is a direct quote from Exodus 34.  In Exodus 32 Israel have sinned.  Because Moses has been such a long time up the mountain (40 days and nights) they want a replacement, and they have Aaron construct a golden calf to represent the god(s) who brought them up out of Egypt.  It is either the first or second commandment (worship of other gods, or worship of the true God by means of man made images) broken before the tablets have even been received.  Moses has received the instructions to build a sanctuary by which God will be with his people, in their midst – but the people have instead tried a do-it-yourself approach.  Exodus 32-33 paint a vivid picture of God’s wrath against the people’s sin, and by the beginning of chapter 33 the tension in the narrative has reached a climatic point. Moses has interceeded with God and secured the people’s ongoing existence, but God cannot go with them, because they are so stiff necked he might destroy them at any minute.

In Exodus 33 Moses seeks a re-confirmation of God’s promise to go with the people, and having secured some sort of assurance in 33:17 then goes on to ask “Show me, please, your glory”.  I don’t know what Moses means by that question, but the answer in 33:19 and onwards is breathtaking.  God will pass all his goodness (same word as in Psalm 145:7) before Moses, and he will proclaim his name – he will have compassion to whom he will have compassion, he will show grace to whom he will show grace to – but Moses will not see God’s face, because no-one can see God’s face and live.  Moses is going to see as much of God as any mortal man can.  Even though no one can see God’s face and live, God will provide a place where Moses can stand, and he will cover Moses with his hand, and he will proclaim his name, and Moses will see the “back” of God as he passes by on that rock.

It is in that context that the verse Psalm 145:8 quotes comes. God himself is standing before Moses, proclaiming his own name, expounding what that  name means to Moses.  And he begins:

The LORD, the LORD (possibly “the LORD is the LORD”), a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…

It is this compassion and steadfast love that the Psalmist praises God for in the rest of the Psalm.  The foundational truth for Psalm 145 is that the LORD is good, and his compassion is over all that he has made, or perhaps even more comprehensively “over all his works”.  This compassion word is related to the word for womb, and it speaks of the tender mercies of our God (Zechariah’s song), of the love that God has for his people.  The love that Isaiah (49:15) speaks about when he records God’s words “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”

The bond between God and his people is stronger than that of a mother and the child she is nursing.  I think we are meant to know as we read that verse from Isaiah that if a mother forgets her child her body will remind her.  The physical reality of that connection is meant to make us realise how intimately God has tied himself to his people.  When we cry for him God knows.  He has compassion.  His compassion is written over all he does.  That  is the compassion he feels for us and has for us.

God’s awesome splendour, and glorious majesty are exercised in loving compassion.  In the season of Easter we see that most supremely in the cross.  John paints a picture for us Jesus as God himself come to us, the “I am”, full of grace and truth.  John shows us the Jesus whose glorification comes by being nailed to a cross.

Exodus 34 and Psalm 145 show us why God’s compassion needs to go to the cross.  Psalm 145:20 echoes Exodus 34:7 – while God is full of compassion and grace, God will nonetheless punish sin.  This makes the warning of Exodus 32:34 a full part of the revelation of God’s character.  The warning is stark, the ESV (somewhat awkwardly literal in English translation) preserves the ambiguity of the Hebrew verb when it says “in the day when I visit I will visit their sin on them”.  “Visit” can be used positively – in Exodus 3 for example – of God’s help, or “negatively”, in Exodus 20 and 34 (probably) of God’s punishment on sin.  This is not surprising when we realise that God is a Holy God.  When he turns up and dwells among sinful people then he will punish.  That is one reason for the book of Leviticus.  And it leaves us with a question.  How can I be sure I will experience God’s compassion?

And that question drives us back to the cross.  It is at the cross where, as for Moses in Exodus 33, God provides a place we can stand.  It is at the cross that God comes into the world, that he “visits” the world, and where he “visits” sin on himself, on the spotless Son of God.  “Because my sinless saviour died, my sinful soul is counted free, for God the just is satisfied to look on him and pardon me.”  “my sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the LORD, praise the LORD, O my soul.”  His compassion is over all his deeds – and the ultimate proof of that is that he was willing to give himself to death, even death on a cross.  I love the way that in Getty/Townend’s “O to see the dawn” the final chorus switches from “took the blame, bore the wrath” to “what a love, what a cost”.  It is right to speak of God’s wrath at the cross, but it is vital too to know that the reason Jesus bore the wrath was because of the love, the compassion that Father and Son have for us.

And so we see that the name of God is all about the compassion of God, and the love of God, and therefore that it is all about the Cross where we see God’s compassion written over all he does.  God’s splendour and majesty and glory are shown in nail scarred hands of love.  When we speak of God’s glory we speak of nails, of blood, of tears.  When we speak of God’s majesty we speak of a wooden cross, a darkened sky and unspeakable agony.

And then we turn with Mary through our tears and hear that voice speaking our name, and we know that God’s compassion is not an empty love, is not a failing love.  We know that it is a love stronger than death, a love that defeats death.  A love that through the place of greatest pain gives birth to a new creation, a new world, a new promised land.

We see that one day God’s compassion will shine out still more as he wipes away every tear from every eye.  When all trace of pain and sorrow, of sickness and sin is gone, and all that is left is joy and peace and unspeakable joy full of glory as we spend eternity seeing the face of God that Moses could not see.  Where “we shall see his face, and never, never sin, and from the rivers of his grace drink endless pleasures in” (Isaac Watts).

When we speak of praising God’s name it is that compassion and grace and love we praise – and so we take up the old words of Psalm 145 and with eyes filled with the knowledge of the cross and the glimpse of the new creation we can use those words to praise the God who hid Moses to give him a glimpse of glory, and we can live now knowing that one day we will be like him, for we will see him as he is – utterly transformed by the sight of God.