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)

Monday, 28 January 2013

Whole family ministry

We are nearing the end of two months at a mission hospital in West Africa. It has been an astonishing time, in many ways. If I were to summarise the whole experience, I would quote Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Chapter 3 v20-21):'Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.’

I could list many answers to prayer – how we came to be here in the first place, the ‘doors’ that were opened to make that possible, God’s provision and timing, and then, on the field, incredible awareness of God at work. Several patients made incredible, unexplainable (in medical terms) recoveries following prayer, others were asking ‘the’ important questions of life and death. But that would be a post for a Christian Medical website perhaps.

What I want to write about here is an unexpected encouragement, relating to the involvement of the whole family in ministry. I’ve written about this before, but there have been times when I have felt a bit as though I hold to an ideal that might not really be possible in practice. We have endeavoured to keep our children together with us in worship as this seems the most ideal and biblical pattern – to worship the God we love with our family, and then to walk home discussing the things we have heard, the questions we have asked ourselves, the prayers we will make. Deuteronomy Chapter 6 seems to describe this when the nation of Israel was commanded, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up.’ (Deuteronomy 6:5-7) It has taken time, but now aged three, the older boys do sit and listen, do ask questions, do remember what they have heard. Yes, they have times when they fidget or get distracted. I must confess, I do as well! But by and large, we are together as a family. We have been encouraged during our time here that others have been blessed by their childlike enthusiasm and attentiveness. As they are able to stay in the main service, they get to hear daddy preaching from time to time, and can hear that it is the same message, the same lessons that we are learning at home. And when we were prayed for by the church here on our final Sunday, they were also very much a part of that, whereas had they gone out with the Sunday School class, they would not have been included.

But more than that has been the encouragement of how the children have blessed others. I have been tempted to worry that looking after lively children impedes ‘important’ ministry. It is difficult to have an intense and deep conversation whilst running in several different directions or having multiple conversations at once, perhaps needing to interrupt a friend to take a boy to the toilet or to discipline them. But deep, intense, one-on-one conversations are not the only way in which you can serve God. We had not realised it, but we came to work with a team who were exhausted. Some members were close to ‘burn out’, there had been a number of difficult and heavy issues to face within the team, and there had been a fair bit of discouragement. The children brought some light-hearted relief to many tired missionaries who enjoyed chasing around the garden, going for walks through the village to the river, seeing their fresh excitement at every day African life. Without children, conversations may have been heavy, talking around complex issues with no clear resolution, whereas what was needed more was an injection of energy and freshness. Another benefit of being there with a family was that our home was always open. Whilst one parent was working in the clinic, the other was based at home. We were there over Christmas, and often bake together both mainly for fun, but with an awareness of theeducational opportunities arising. And children need to eat regularly, so we would often have visitors for meals or drinks several times in a day. Left to my own devices, I might not be keen to invite others to my home so often – tired after a long day at work, I would prefer to curl up with a book or spend time in reflection. But if we are sitting down for a meal anyway, it is no extra work to invite a few others and sometimes a welcoming home is just the thing that is needed for a weary soul. We just did what came naturally and shared our lives. The thing that was telling was at the end, when we were given some feedback, our home and family life was mentioned more as an encouragement than the work in the clinic (and between us, we were covering for 70-80 hours per week, so the work was not trivial). Our medical work was useful, but the role that encouraged and blessed others more was simply living our lives as we do anywhere in the world, and inviting others to join us. A couple of times a day we would walk in the village – in the mornings to buy bread and go to the market, and in the afternoons down to the baobab trees where there is cool shade and beautiful birdsong. We did our best with the local languages (and once more I was astonished at how well children pick up new tongues). As we did this, we would often greet those we passed by, and came to know where most of the church members lived. They remarked that this encouraged them by showing interest in their lives; again, we had not set out to ‘encourage the church membership’, but rather had simply lived our lives as a family.

I am encouraged because our current society, and even quite a few voices within the church, tend to dismiss children. It is better to keep them in a separate box, somewhere you can control them, somewhere they won’t disturb us from the ‘real’ business of worship or ministry. Whilst I have not agreed, there have been doubts in my mind. I have been told that I am too idealistic. I have been actively discouraged in what we have been seeking to build as a family. And so, these couple of months have been a great encouragement to us. We did nothing different here than what we seek to do in the UK, but God has blessed and refreshed us here. We did not come here with great aims or expectations, but rather prayed that every conversation and relationship would give Him honour. It is not often that you receive such clear encouragement, and so I wanted to post here to encourage others. If you are seeking to serve God as a family, take heart!

Friday, 4 January 2013

Encouragments from 2012: Growing up!

Lately, I have been astonished by how fast my boys are growing up. Perhaps every parent feels this way. You get used to one set of routines and activities that work well, but then things move and change, and what forms a ‘typical’ day is transient, gradually changing, shaping, evolving. All this is good! One of our main aims as parents is to help our children to grow, to develop, to learn, to become fully rounded people who will make the most of their strengths and opportunities in this world. But I still marvel at the development! A year ago, my older two were still in nappies, had somewhat limited speech, and required constant supervision both inside and outside the house. Now, I have two little adventurers who communicate freely and often surprisingly eloquently, can entertain each other for hours in the garden, playing complex games involving sticks, leaves, stones, any other objects that they find during their explorations, and have very clear and distinct personalities. 

My three and half year old loves using words in different ways, trying out the sound and taste of each. He talks of ‘torrential downpours’ rather than rain showers, ‘glorious sunsets’, ‘fabulously delicious food’, and many other detailed descriptions which really bring joy to the hearer. He is sometimes very solemn, with very accurate attention to detail; sometimes this can cause him to become upset and frustrated, for example when somebody neglects a detail or has not noticed something he has seen. For example, the other day, as we passed many mango trees (and this is not the mango season), he saw a low hanging fruit, but for a while nobody listened to the slightly agitated little boy trying to tell us he could see a mango. He was of course right, and delighted when we all stopped and took notice! My three year old has a more explosive personality; he has a laugh which is sufficiently infectious to make a busload of gloomy-faced adults smile, a delight in singing wholeheartedly and gives hugs which involve his whole body. He gets equally upset at times, and requires firm discipline and support as he learns to control his passions. Lately, he has become more interested in books, but one of his main enjoyments is drawing and painting. He can sit for a long time, patiently putting great detail into his delicate squiggles, taking delight in using and mixing colours. I love to let him do this freely, and develop the creativity which I think can be so easily squashed. The baby is ten months old now, and desperate to be running around after his brothers. He has a very placid temperament, putting up with a lot of very physical affection from the older two, and not even objecting too much when he gets sat on or covered in sand by them, as was the case this morning. However, he does get annoyed when somebody else’s food looks more interesting than his, and shows this dissatisfaction very clearly. He does not laugh often, but when he does, it is a wonderful sound. Yesterday, he tried to climb his first tree (not very successfully).

How does all of this affect home education? In some ways it doesn’t. The overall aims we have set ourselves as a family have not changed, yet the precise ways in which these aims are best achieved will certainly change as the children grow. One of the beauties of home education is that you can move at the pace of each individual child, and development of ‘curricula’ and teaching methods and materials is a natural extension which flows from day to day activities, questions and conversations. This is a far more gentle and natural approach than assuming that every three year old should be able to do X, Y and Z, and should be interested in A, B and C. It is ideal as you can embrace the strengths and interests of each child, whilst supporting and nurturing them to overcome their weaknesses. My three year old needs encouragement at times; his default reply to something he sees as challenging may often be, ‘I can’t!’ but you should see the delight on his face when with encouragement he is able to achieve a new task or activity. It takes time, it takes effort, but for all of us, it is rewarding! But I may well be ‘preaching to the choir’ here, as I imagine many readers are well aware of these benefits.

But specifically, there will be changes. Some of the ‘toddler’ activities we have been involved with are no longer helpful or necessary for the boys. They certainly prefer to be outdoors, and the free exploration that comes from running through parks and fields, collecting leaves, fruit, grasses, spotting and describing birds and insects, coming home and reading up on the things we have seen – these type of things are ideal at the moment. I have some friends with similar aged children who are also home educating, and we should aim to join together more regularly now the children are of an age where they are keen to develop relationships and imaginative play which requires many participants. One constraint we have found has been to do with schedules and routines; my boys still nap for between 1 and 2 hours in the middle of the day, and this is a routine which serves us all well as a family. However, a drawback can mean that full day excursions, or things taking place around lunchtime, are not ideal for us, whilst they are often best for others. Again, I think I should be more pro-active in inviting others to join with things that we are doing anyway, such as mornings at the museum, afternoons in the park, walks around the docks, singing and music times at home. It is easy to feel frustrated by your own limitations (whether these be personal or practical) rather than seek imaginative ways to overcome them (and not to see them as limitations, but differences).

Another big change for our family is that my maternity leave will come to an end. My husband and I will revert to working half the week each. This suits us well too; we have quite different strengths, and by choosing this flexible working pattern, the boys benefit from the best of both worlds. As parents, we also feel more refreshed, both at home and at work. For both of us, work this year will involve periods in Africa, and one question we still need to answer is how long one parent should be away for before we choose to make it a family trip; this can also be logistically challenging in terms of the other person negotiating holiday and study leave to cover the same period. But it is fun – and our current two month stint in West Africa, which initially felt like a somewhat mad idea, is proving just how possible and worthwhile this kind of model can be. Sometimes I find myself getting anxious. I can start the year thinking that what we hope to achieve seems simply impossible. But I look back over many events in the past few years which I thought would be impossible, and see God’s faithfulness and provision. I particularly need to remember that if something is truly what God wants us to be doing as a family, even if it initially seems impossible, He will open the necessary doors to make things work out. I don’t get anxious when I take things week by week, or even month by month; the worries start when I think beyond about six months. An important lesson for me to remember this year is contained in the words of Jesus, recorded in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 6 verse 24: ‘Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble’. This must be balanced with other passages of the Bible which speak of wisdom, of prayerful deliberations and planning; it is not a licence to embark upon foolish endeavours and trust that God will mop up the mess! Bearing this in mind, it brings comfort and encouragement that as we seek to do the will of God in our family, He will provide all we need, whether guidance, physical and material provisions, or logistics which enable us to work together as a family rather than becoming fragmented.

One thing which has excited me most over the past year is hearing the boys spontaneously talking about God, and the Bible verses which they have learned. One morning, just before he turned three, one of the boys was anxious about going somewhere. The night before, he had learned the admonition that God gave Joshua, ‘Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ (Joshua 1:9) I discussed with him what ‘wherever’ meant, and he reached the conclusion that God would be with him and therefore he had no need to be anxious on that particular morning. On other days, I have found them spontaneously praying or giving thanks to God for things which are beautiful or unexpected. They have an astonishing ability to tie together the various different sections of the Bible which they have been taught, and seem to be developing a rounded understanding of these truths. OK, there are also times when they say things like, ‘In the beginning, God created cheese on toast’, or want to spend long times thanking God for all the different vehicles they have seen on the roads that day, but the general trend is encouraging. I have previously commented on how this memory and understanding should not surprise us. We expect three year olds to be able to remember the words to nursery rhymes, or be able to recount details from their favourite books or television programmes, yet we somehow do not expect a similar recall and understanding when it comes to matters of far greater importance. Even though I have thought about this for some time, it is still extremely exciting to hear the words coming spontaneously from them. I look forward to watching this develop over the year ahead.

So overall, I start 2013 feeling hopeful and excited about continuing to educate our boys at home. I am slightly daunted, and often feel aware of my inadequacies. But I can look back on God’s faithfulness, provision and guidance, and put my confidence fully in Him for the year ahead.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Book Review: Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver

Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver is subtitled, ‘finding intimacy with God in the busyness of life.’ As with many books I read, it was the recommendation of a friend who I respect. I found it challenging and helpful in drawing me back to the things in life which really matter. We all have different lives with different choices, pressures, situations, challenges and opportunities. But I think all of us also have the tendency to feel overwhelmed by the number of things that we feel need to be done. Maybe this can be very much a problem among homeschooling parents, who have made choices which prioritise time with the children, additional hours seeking out and researching materials, time to review and plan lessons and activities, and time to carefully appraise the development of each individual child. Whilst all of us who have chosen this route will agree that the investment and times of personal sacrifice are more than worthwhile for the wellbeing of our children and our families, I am sure I am not alone in feeling guilty at times for not having more time to spend doing other ‘good’ things – being more involved in church activities, community events, spending time with individuals who are facing trials or challenges, and so on. Sometimes I laugh, and say that I could have six different lives, and do six different things, and be equally fulfilled in all of them. In one, I would be a writer. In another, I would be a full-time stay at home homeschooling mum of a large family. Another life would be setting up a Christian cafe, aiming to provide a welcoming environment for those needing refreshment and encouragement. In another, I would be a medical academic, and still another life might be the missionary in rural Africa. I can’t do all of these things, and neither would one person be expected to! But still, it is tempting to feel guilty for all the things that you cannot achieve, rather than focussing on what is most important and doing that wholeheartedly.

The book is based on an encounter between Jesus and two sisters, Martha and Mary, who had welcomed Him and His disciples into their home. Martha was extremely busy, and increasingly frustrated at her sister who was sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to Him talking. Eventually, she snapped, ‘Don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!’ Instead of agreeing with this as a reasonable request, Jesus gently rebuked her, pointing out that of all the many things that could be done, only one thing was truly necessary, and that was the ‘better part’ that Mary had chosen. It is a short, simple account of a conversation, but one which teaches us much. I must confess that I can feel more like Martha at times, sometimes getting irritated and frustrated at others who don’t seem to realise how hard I am working to try and make things look simple. Sometimes I feel like a swan, paddling away frantically beneath the surface in order to glide smoothly, seemingly effortlessly, across a lake. As I read Joanna Weaver’s exposition on this passage, I was given a better view into my own heart, but more importantly than that, I came to see and appreciate more of the tender, compassionate and gracious heart of our Lord. 

Jesus bids us, ‘Come to  me all you who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest.’ And yet, it is somehow easier to see God as some kind of taskmaster who expects more and more of us. As I read, prayed and examined my own heart, I came to see how some of the pressures and conflicts I face are actually of my own doing, and a consequence of not spending time in that most important place, listening quietly to our Lord guiding us in the way He would have us go. I found that liberating. I realised how when I am busy, often my time of prayer and reflection on the Bible is easy to cut out, and yet it is when I am most hard-pressed, it is then that I really need that time. I was also reminded to think of the relationship I have with Jesus, rather than seeing devotional time as simply another ‘task’ to get through in a day, rather seeing it as a time spent with a closest friend; something to be cherished, eagerly anticipated and relished. It is a fundamental change of attitude, and rather than being a burden and something to feel guilty about, it is a wonderful gift, a privilege and a shame to miss out on. 

There were some helpful checklists in the book, almost ‘spot checks’ on where you might be up to in your own life. These were helpful. I realised that the times when I feel most like Martha – wanting to be critical of others who I see as not working hard enough or not appreciating me (!) – are in fact the times when I need more than anything to stop and sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His voice. Rather than working harder and harder and getting into a frenzy, there is a time to stop and prayerfully consider what actually needs to be done, and what can wait or be done by somebody else, or even not at all. I reflected upon how there is no point in achieving long lists of tasks if these are done with an attitude which does not honour God, and thereby nullifies the main reason for doing some of those in the first place. So, for example, if I have some friends round for an evening with the aim of encouraging them spiritually, seeking to spur them on towards love and good deeds, there is no point in having a spotless house, delicious gourmet food, all the children tucked up asleep in bed, and candles and flowers on the table if I am so frazzled by the preparation that I am grumpy and irritable all evening and completely miss the opportunities to encourage those friends. A similar example could be given for many things we do in life.

If you are tending to feeling busy and overwhelmed at the moment, I would highly recommend this book as it will help you take a step back and focus once more on what truly matters.