About Me

I am a Christian mother of five, and our highest goal as a family is to serve God in every aspect of our lives. Jesus promised His disciples 'life in all its abundance' (John 10:10) - that has been our story, a rich life, not devoid of challenges, but certainly abundant. Previously writing at www.homeeducationnovice.blogspot.com, we have come to realise that education is just one area where our faith shapes our choices and direction in life. This blog seeks to share our adventure (using font only to enable access in settings with poor internet)

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Challenge: Loneliness

One of the biggest challenges I face is loneliness. Does that relate to home education? In part, in this current phase of life, yes it does. My life consists of looking after my children, supervising them, guiding them, talking with them, reading to them, doing the basic childcare and babycare activities, and then, when they are asleep at naptime or in the evening, doing things relating to my part-time job or working through other administrative tasks. In between that, I am involved in church, a couple of ladies’ Bible study groups and a Christian organisation relating to my work. There isn’t much time for much else! On a good day, I am really happy with the balance – between the children, my marriage, church and Christian activities and continuing in my career. But at other times, I do feel lonely.

What is it that causes loneliness? Is it being physically isolated? Or is it more to do with feeling misunderstood? For me, I think it is the second. Some of the choices we have made as a family leave us without a clear ‘peer group’; not that that is a reason not to do what you believe to be right, but it can make it difficult to really discuss things and to receive helpful and empathetic responses. For example, if I were to tell many of the young mothers around me that I felt lonely, they would suggest that I should put the boys in nursery or pre-school to free up some ‘me time’. To them, that is the logical and natural solution, and therefore my current feelings are of my own making. You could argue the same for many aspects of the same thing. Professionally, I work less than full time, in order to be able to prioritise my family; therefore I don’t have a peer group there, and often am told, ‘if you would just come back full time’, or ‘when the children are in school and you work full time again....’that things might be different. Similarly, amongst some Christian circles, there can be a feeling that I should not be seeking to work outside the home, and might be told that it is unsurprising that I don’t have much free time if I am choosing to do things which I ought not to do. Does having a peer group matter? AW Tozer said, ‘the masses are always wrong’. I recently heard an inspirational speaker state that ‘true innovators have no peers’; whilst I would hardly describe myself as a true innovator, I found that quotation helpful! What has encouraged me to continue have been some wise ‘older women’ who have been honest with me. They have admitted that their choices did leave them lonely and misunderstood at times, but that they were utterlyconvinced that this was the best wise use of their time (Backlink best use of time). Online resources, in particular blog writers such as Jess at ‘Making Home’ have also helped combat that sense of isolation; a helpful blog post on this very issue is here

The Bible talks much about friendship. In our ladies’ Bible study this morning, we were discussing those type of friendships where there is true accountability, and true spiritual encouragement. We were talking about how these relationships need to be deliberately sought and nurtured. I asked the question what we should do if we felt we lacked these relationships, and I was told to go and get some; helpful on the one level, but perhaps missing the point and exacerbating my feelings of being misunderstood! How does a homeschooling, part-time working mother of three children aged three and under build relationships? When? Where? Having said that, this Bible study group has been an absolute godsend to me. Most of us have young children, and whilst we work our way through a book of the Bible, guided by an extremely gifted Bible teacher, the children are in an adjacent room having their own structured activities and lessons. It is the only time in my current week when I am not with the boys during their waking hours, and it benefits me and them both greatly. The best part of the Bible discussion is that although it follows a format, there is space for people to raise issues and questions which are directly relevant to their lives at that time; therefore we often go off on a tangent and discuss the real, practical issues of living day to day as Christian woman in our society. It’s great, and through that, I have indeed developed some relationships which are based on a shared desire to know God more.

With like-minded mothers, I have also found that a walk in the park with the children provides the best opportunity for us to talk. The children need our supervision and interaction, but can also spend some time running ahead or exploring just off the path whilst we get some time to talk. With lively boys who love being outside, that is a far better solution than inviting somebody round for coffee and having the children get restless and frustrated. I think it does us all good to be out in the fresh air, and even on the days when we feel least like it, it can be helpful. I can understand why Charlotte Mason put such emphasis on time out of doors for children under the age of six or seven!

I emailed the friend I regard as a mentor about some of the current challenges yesterday, and as always, her counsel was gentle, wise, encouraging and very genuine as she drew from her own experiences and applied her wisdom to what she knows of my family. Not all relationships have to be face to face, and the internet and ability to email round the world can be a great blessing to those who feel isolated. I would encourage you to look at blogs written by those in similar circumstances to yourself; of course all advice must be weighed carefully in the light of Scripture, and you also may not have seen how the blog writer actually functions in ‘real life’, but bearing in mind these limitations it can be helpful. Another friend of mine spoke similarly of writings relating to singleness.

I could dig a lot deeper into the balance between having Christ as our ‘all sufficient one’ yet being humans created for relationship and deliberately placed within a community which is described as a ‘body’ with a perfect inter-relationship between its parts. But today, I’ll stop here. I’d love to know how you respond to feelings of loneliness. Please share!

Saturday, 27 October 2012

What God teaches through our children. Part 4: Sacrifice

If you read this blog regularly, you will see that I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently contemplating what God teaches us through our children, and particularly what He teaches us in respect to His relationship with us. I have considered His unconditional love mirrored in the love a parent has for a newborn baby; I’ve reflected on some of the lessons learnt through the patience and times of frustration involved in maintaining consistent discipline. I’ve also celebrated some of His tenderness towards us as we make feeble efforts to step out in faith. Now, I want to think of something even more amazing than any of those things. He sent His own Son Jesus Christ to die for us.

We need to take great care never to become blasé to some of the truths contained in the Bible. Especially if we have been raised in Christian homes, or it has been many years since we came to believe these truths for ourselves, we can become almost over-familiar with some of the more amazing and powerful messages contained therein. I think one of these is the fact that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3 verse 16) Most Christians know that verse inside out and backwards. But do they really know what it means? Do they really stop to think about that? Can we possibly understand it fully?

Several years ago, I was confronted with this truth in a new and powerful way. We had been blessed with a baby daughter, and it was a wonderful time. We often reflected on Psalm 139, how God makes each of us ‘fearfully and wonderfully’ and how ‘all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.’ I was amazed by the overwhelming love I felt for her; I had never considered myself particularly maternal, and had not had a good experience with my own parents, so I had been fearful that I might not ‘bond’ well, or that I might otherwise struggle. Instead, I felt as though I had just come alive. Life was new and fresh and exciting. I felt a renewed hope and zeal, and I praised God wholeheartedly for His incredible gift to us. Nine weeks later, her heart stopped for reasons which never became clear. Although we were able to re-start it (another story for another time), she had severe brain damage and died without leaving hospital six weeks later. I remember the deep, heart-wrenching sorrow; it literally felt as though a part of me had been ripped out and discarded. Even now, it as though a part of me died that day, and that fresh, unclouded hope has never fully returned. I do not doubt God’s goodness, His purposes, His provision and His blessings to us; in fact heaven seems so much more real now, and I feel acutely aware that this world is fading away yet heaven is where we will spend eternity. But the pain was real, and if you were to ask me what I would have given to have prevented her death (had that been at all possible), I would have given everything I had. I would never have chosen for her to die. I certainly would not have chosen for her to die in order to rescue people who hated us! But think about it. That’s what God did.

‘This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.’ (1 John 4 verse 9)And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’ (2 Corinthians 5 verse 15) God knew that there was no other way, and so offered the very best thing that He had – His only son – to die in sacrifice for our sins. Can we actually understand that? I don’t think we can, not here and now, not in this life. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.’ (1 Corinthians 13 verse 12) John 15 verse 13 says it simply, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reflects on how for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5 verse 7-8).

I was not a perfect parent, nor was my daughter a sinless child. Yet if the sorrow I felt when she died is even a glimpse of what God willingly endured in sending Jesus to die for us, then I can only marvel and praise Him all the more! I know people who consider that the death of a child must be one of the most difficult trials to endure; I would tend to disagree, although much will depend on the circumstances, and I am aware that we were borne up by a supernatural grace, strength and peace that can only have come from God. But people do think of the death of a child in these terms. Conversely, do we forget that our human emotions are part of us having been made ‘in the image of God’ (Genesis 1 verse 27)? Do we forget just what it cost God to send Jesus for us? And do we forget that He considered us worth that price?

What God teaches through our children. Part 3: Feeble efforts

Every stage of parenting brings new blessings. I often feel slightly mixed – sad that a phase of life is over, but at the same time, excited to see my child grow, progress and reach milestones. Some of them are particularly memorable – starting to crawl or the first steps taken, when the child can start to show some independence and get where he wants to go. Perhaps even more exciting for me has been the development of speech, as they children are increasingly able to communicate, reflecting their personalities, their questions, their interests, their formative sense of humour.... I try to not rush ahead, but to enjoy each day for what it brings, and that is one of the reasons we have chosen to home educate, as we have the time and the space to embrace these developments. 

Having considered God’s unconditional love and then how the disobedience and continual need for discipline can help us see something of God’s great grace and forgiveness towards us, I now want to reflect upon a different element of the relationship. I want to think about encouragement. As with other areas, this is something we can struggle with whilst living in an achievement-focussed, results-orientated society. Do we judge ourselves on what we have achieved or produced during a day? Do we consider our lives to have more meaning and purpose when we can catalogue what we have done and display results? As I have previously mentioned, I know this is something which I battle with perhaps more than others. I was brought up to ‘achieve my potential’, and to develop perfectionist tendencies which are wont to stifle the enjoyment of anything. There was no point in doing anything if I could not be the best. Even a Grade A might not be good enough, if I did not win the prize. What is the point of running if you don’t win a medal? And so, I utterly missed the point. I missed the beauty in the world which surrounded me, I completely lost sight of the enjoyment that could be gained through arts, music and creativity, and I started to despise myself as I could not always achieve to the level I desired.

Is that how God sees us? Is that an attitude I would want any of my children to inherit? I pray not! I have previously considered what our highest aims for our children are.

Consider a child learning to walk. Can they do it perfectly from the very first day? Of course not! Unsteady standing, cautious looking around them, and then one day, wait, was that a step? Was it really their first step or was it just a shuffle of their foot before they fell? I’m going to call it a step! Fantastic! Let’s have another go. Stand up, try again....whoops! Never mind, let’s have another go. Camera at the ready, proud parents beaming, stumble bump. And again! We don’t look at our children and think, ‘That’s really pathetic’, or ‘Come on, how long is it going to take you to get the hang of it?’ Hopefully we also don’t think, ‘That’s useless; little Johnny down the road mastered it months ago!’ No, we delight in these first achievements, we celebrate them, we encourage and we continue to encourage. Some time later, the child can walk to the park. Do we chide them because they can only walk one mile rather than three? Of course not! But when the child is older, we would expect a reasonable amount more... I could draw the same analogy from many other milestones. Their first paintings, splotched colours on a sheet of paper... The first attempts to form letters and numbers, although they are unintelligible. Starting to sing... Dancing, which for my eldest resembles something that an embarrassingly extrovert uncle might do at a wedding! As parents, we are simply delighted to see the child develop, to gain and use new skills, to be able to express themselves and to learn and grow. It is worthy of celebration!

Where am I going with this analogy? The first thing is that we are just too hard on ourselves at times. Do we get frustrated when we don’t do something perfectly? Perhaps we are trying something we have not done before – baking a certain recipe, a new craft, leading a small group, public speaking, writing a blog... Do we give up, rather than enjoying the process? Secondly, we judge things wrongly. In Isaiah Chapter 11, we read how God ‘will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.’ He sees the attitudes and motives, and makes a correct assessment. Are we afraid to step out into new areas because of fear of failure? On the car radio last week, I heard part of a discussion regarding how fear of failure is almost endemic within British society today, and the negative consequences this can have on our lives. Often these discussions reach unhelpful conclusions, suggesting that we ‘have strength within us’ or that somehow there is something within ourselves which enables us to overcome the challenges we face; I would disagree entirely and suggest that it is only as we become new creations in Christ that we can do so. ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!’ (2 Corinthians 5 verse 17)

Do we encourage one another? It is one thing to think of cheering on our children, but what about more generally? What about people who are taking bold steps of faith in their lives? Sometimes these things may seem feeble to us, but do we ‘Consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.’ (Hebrews 10 verses 24 and 25) When we look at how we delight as our children step forward and try new things, sometimes in a ‘two steps forward, one step back’ manner, do we see that God our Father similarly delights when we seek to trust Him and live for Him? Hebrews Chapter 11 is often referred to as the ‘faith hall of fame’- we are given a summary of many of the men and women of faith encountered throughout history. Moving into Chapter 12, we are encouraged, ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.’ (Hebrews 12 verses 1-3) A great cloud of witnesses… This is paraphrased in The Message as ‘pioneers who blazed the way…. Veterans cheering us on’. The imagery is of us running a race, exhausted, perhaps stumbling, but being cheered on and encouraged by those who have gone before. But who are these champions of faith? Were they all perfect? Did they all steadily develop in their faith without setbacks, episodes of disobedience, failure, doubt and outright sin? By no means! Look in more detail at some of their lives, and you can see clearly how God uses ‘real’ people, those who have weaknesses and shortcomings and failings, in His purposes. The key is not that they succeeded time after time, but that they came back to God as David did, praying, ‘Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions…. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me….’ Psalm 51 In the prophecy of Isaiah, we are reminded that ‘The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ (Isaiah 40 verse 28-31).  

As we look at our children, tentatively making their first steps and their first attempts at new things, holding tightly to our hands, let us seek a similar relationship with God. Let us trust that He is pleased with our efforts, and will guide us and strengthen us as we seek Him. Let us not be excessively discouraged by our shortcomings and failures, but quick to return to the Lord, quick to say that we are sorry and try again. Let us understand more of His fatherhood towards us.

What God teaches through our children. Part 2: Grace and patience

I am often amazed by the different perspective having children brings to many areas of life, and for me it has been particularly helpful as I consider the relationship between God, our everlasting Father, and us as His children. Previously, I reflected on how even the smallest, most helpless baby is precious and could not be loved more. Today, I want to consider some things I have learnt as my children have grown.

I am often amazed by the gentleness and compassion of God. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.’ (Isaiah 42 verse 3). He is a God of encouragement. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem…’ (Isaiah 40 verses 1-2) But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.’ (Psalm 86 verse 15) ‘The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.’ (Psalm 145 verse 8). Through Christ, we are promised empathy, ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.’ (Hebrews 4 verse 15). Jesus invited, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ (Matthew 11:28-29) But do we forget these things?

Our society is very ‘results orientated’ and very achievement focused. Personally, this is a worldview that I battle against, as it speaks of the wisdom of this world, rather than the things of God. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.’ (1 Corinthians 3 verse 19) I grapple with the fact that God does not love me based on what I have done or accomplished for Him, but rather because of who He is and for His glory. It is not about me! But how do you feel as a Christian when you fail? I think we all have areas of weakness in our lives, things which continue to tempt us to sin, tempt us to take our eyes off the things which really matter, things which bring us sorrow. These will differ from one person to the next. But how do you feel when you have made the same mistake again? When you have come before God in tears, asking for His forgiveness and committing to do better from then on, only to stumble at the same point time and time again? Do you believe God continues to forgive? Do you accept His forgiveness? Do you forgive yourself? After hearing what is known as ‘The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant’, the apostle ‘Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times”. The number seven is taken to represent perfection. Jesus was teaching that we must continue to forgive time after time after time, and that we can trust that God does the same for us.

What has this to do with toddlers? Well, if you have one, you will see a lot of this! ‘Sorry mummy, I won’t do it again’.’I didn’t mean to do it!’ ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry!’ But even as they say the words, you know that the same act of disobedience will occur again, within a short period. But you don’t run out of patience, but seek to correct your child and set them on the right path, seeking to ‘Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.’ (Proverbs 22 verse 6) Really? Or do you get exasperated at times? Do you feel frustrated and worn out? Do you feel as though you are on one of those ‘stairmasters’ at the gym where you continually climb to nowhere, going round and round and round? Or a hamster, trapped in its wheel? Have you ever had one of those days, where you feel almost defeated by a certain ‘battle’ (whether that be a mealtime issue, or bedtime shenanigans or some other recurring theme)? But then, once you child is asleep, you look at their peaceful innocence and feel nothing but overwhelming love, and feel a little ashamed at having felt strong emotions earlier in the day? I think I am not alone in some of this! And it reminds me just how incredible it is that God continues to love us, perfectly, steadfastly, sacrificially. We are often just like toddlers who deliberately tip their milk over their dinner for the fourth time in one day. We rebel and wrestle against the holy paths we have been called to walk. Sometimes we sulk, sometimes we ignore God, sometimes we want to shout and scream. But God continues to be compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love. And the things we do before God are far more abhorrent than the misdemeanors of a toddler! It amazes me. It causes me to feel very humble. It makes me realize just how small and feeble I am before the Creator of the Universe. And it makes me realize yet again that I could never earn any of this. I could not be ‘good enough’. I could not ‘achieve enough’. I can only accept the gift that is offered with gratitude. Ephesians Chapter 2 verse 8 and 9 says this beautifully, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Through raising young children, I can see more of God’s incredible love, patience, gentleness, forgiveness and compassion towards us. I appreciate more of just how perfect these attributes and virtues are! As I pray for peace, patience and wisdom in raising my family, I also pray that I can walk steadfastly, but never think that I can earn God’s love. I pray that today, I can rest in His love, knowing that it is entirely a gift of grace.