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)

Sunday 22 March 2015

5 Encouragements

This blog has several purposes. One is to discuss and share resources and ideas relating to home education, particularly Christian home education. A second is to be a more personal reflection of the challenges and the joys that are encountered - with the aim of encouraging others in what can be an amazing adventure, but also at times a lonely and less travelled road. Thirdly, when life is busy (as it tends to become for all of us) I find it helpful to stop and reflect - to reassess priorities, to celebrate progress, to set goals and to learn and gain encouragement from others. This is one reason why I tend to blog on a Sunday evening - it is a helpful discipline for me to pause and consider.

This week has brought encouragement from several sources. In no particular order....

1) Today we invited some students who had recently started attending our church for Sunday lunch. Two of them had been home educated. It was encouraging for us to see young adults who have been home educated, and I think encouraging for them to enter a home which reminded them of their own childhood. Sunday lunch at our house is not often peaceful. My husband is an excellent cook, and there is always an interesting variety of food, but there is noise, mess and then a walk in a nearby park. I used to feel a bit ashamed of not having a model house. However, over the years I have come to realise that what people in our society lack most of all is a welcoming family home. For these students, I think they felt very at home, and I hope left refreshed and encouraged!

2) Earlier in the week I was introduced to a family who work as Bible translators in an area which is not all that safe for Christians. They are enjoying a short furlough in here, and it is also the first visit to the UK of their toddler son, with whom they are in the process of adoption. Again, it was so refreshing to meet with others who live with their greatest priority being the Kingdom of God. I have noticed that sometimes, once children are on the scene, even well meaning Christians can subtly (or not so subtly) undermine attempts to live sacrificially. Risk taking is seen as negligent, rather than a bold step of faith. I've written more about this recently. The Bible speaks of the importance of choosing our companions wisely. We are taught to be 'in the world but not of the world'. 'Do not be decieved: Bad company corrupts good character' (1 Cor 15:33) - sometimes it is not the really obviously bad company that I find such a challenge (it can be relatively easy to avoid this), but rather the lukewarm, compromising, worldly Christian company. Proverbs 27:17 reads 'as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens the countenance of his friend' - as Christians we can challenge, exhort and encourage one another to walk along the narrow path. That does not always need to involve 'deep and meaningful' conversations; for me, sometimes it is simply spending company with those whose priorities are clearly not of this world.

3) On Wednesday we took our two five year olds to a concert (Peer Gynt by Grieg, then Sibelius then Tchaikovsky). My more restless son was utterly transfixed - I don't think I have ever seen him so still or quiet. This reminded me that children all have their own interests and strengths, and that we shouldn't stereotype them into boxes. (It was also an advantage of home education that we had no issues with them being out until 22:30 on a 'school' night).

4) Yesterday we enjoyed a long hike (well, long if you are three years old - 7 Km and 450 metres of altitude) with a family who also have three boys. For me, one of the greatest pleasures is being outside in the fresh air. We can enjoy the beauty of God's creation and all the small hassles of day to day life can just be forgotten about for a time. We have been very blessed to meet other families with similar attitudes and interests, because for quite a long time we felt very strange for spending so much time out of doors! It is also encouraging when you see other parents who have similar standards of discipline, and who will appropriately reprimand their children should the need arise. I  would make similar comments to those under item number 2 above - that often we can encourage one another simply through sharing our lives together. This is an important point - one of the challenges my Christians friends have made regarding home education is that I would not have enough time for 'ministry' - and often that refers to spending one on one time with younger Christians or those in need, perhaps reading the Bible together or working through a Christian book. I would agree that I don't have the ability to do those things during this season of life. but I do think a whole set of new opportunities open up. I was really persuaded of this during several months in a West African village.

5) And relating to that point, we for a walk by the river with a couple of home educating families that we know from the local group. A friend of mine who is a student was having a tough day, and so we invited her along. It was probably the best thing for her - to be outside with eight young children enjoying the early spring sunshine, fresh air, building sandcastles, getting muddy and just enjoying some freedom. In fact, she told me afterwards that this was more encouraging and helpful than it would have been to sit down and talk about the things that were on her mind.

So in summary, this week has reminded me of several things:

1) The importance of living first and foremost for the Kingdom of God, and of modelling that to our children

2) The joy of Christian fellowship, and how we can encourage one another through sharing our lives as much as through our words

3) That our children are intrinsic to our Christian lives and service, and have a vital role in ministering to others. We do them a great disservice if we ever consider them an inconvenience or to be 'getting in the way'

4) That our children continue to surprise us with their learning styles and aptitudes - that it is not right to try and define them too precisely (yes, I know understanding a little about learning styles can be helpful, but I am meaning that we should not put them into boxes).

How have you been encouraged this week?

Sunday 15 March 2015

Challenge of the week

So this Sunday evening we've enjoyed some time off together. Sunday is the only day that we don't work (unless we are on the rota for clinical duties, because of course patients still become acutely unwell on the Sabbath, and the Bible is quite clear that if there is a pressing need - the example given is if your sheep were to fall into a ditch on the Sabbath - that it is OK to work). It probably warrants a separate post at another time, because even this evening we were talking about how few people seem to have a correct Biblical understanding of the Sabbath, and how rather than being a rule or ritual, God provides it for our benefit and freedom.

Anyway, at the time of day when I would usual be blogging, we were sitting by the fire talking about our hopes, dreams and expectations. These last six months have been a little crazy for a range of reasons, and the next few months may be unusual was we both settle into new job patterns whilst preparing for another major move. Tonight seemed like the first time in months that we had just sat and talked. It was a real blessing and encouragement.

I don't blog a lot about marriage, but a friend of mine, Jess Connell does. I would highly recommend her blog as she discusses a lot of issues that Christian women need to consider, but which are not always discussed in churches and ladies' meetings. I really enjoyed one of her posts this week, on the opposite of the Titus 2 woman. Her argument is that often you understand something best when you consider the exact opposite of what is being said. So read this post, and be challenged. I certainly was!

Sunday 8 March 2015

God's compassion for the weary

Lately, I have felt tired. Well, to be honest, it has felt a bit more than just tired, more like exhausted. There have been days when my head has felt like being in a fog, where I have been taking part in conversations and not really feeling fully engaged and attentive, and sometimes I have just longed for sleep. I think we all feel this way at times, whether we have children or not, whether our children are young or older; sometimes it is just part of being in a fallen world. In Genesis 3, after the fall of man, God's curse to Adam was that his toil would increase and that by 'the sweat of your brow you will eat your food'; simply living in this fallen world would become tiring and painful.

However, God is compassionate and gracious.

'He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.' Isaiah 40 verse 11

“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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”' Matthew 11:28-30

These verses both show how God knows the pressures we may face, and particularly mentions how He is gentle with those who have young. He knows what this season of life can be like. He knows that there will be days when simply getting through the day can feel like a real challenge.

I take great comfort in that! If you feel worn out this Sunday evening, I encourage you to stop and rest before the God who knows exactly how you are feeling.

Hebrews 4:14-16: 'Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 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. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.'

Jesus was fully God, but He was also fully human. He knew fatigue, loneliness, hunger, rejection, physical pain, grief, temptation and frustration - there are examples of all of these in the Bible that we can learn from. However you are feeling right now - perhaps you may be tempted to compromise, or to question whether the choices you have made are really worth the hard work - look to Jesus. Hebrews 12:1-3: '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.'

I think we can also learn a lot from the story of Martha and Mary. Particularly when under pressure, I become more like Martha - there seem to be so many things that need doing, in all areas of life, that my tendency is to make more and more lists, to get busier and busier, until eventually I snap (either collapse with exhaustion, become paralysed with feeling overwhelmed, or become emotional over small things). 

Luke 10:38-42 tells the story: 'As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary,who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”  “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Whatever is going on in your life - whether you are thriving on the bustling activity, or feeling overwhelmed and close to breaking, take the example of Mary and choose the one things which is best.

And on that note, I'll go and find refreshment in the only place where it can really be found.

Sunday 1 March 2015

Global Mission - A Task for the Whole Family

On Friday night, we were asked to lead a seminar of about 30 people on global mission - we were asked in particular to talk about how some of this is possible (and not only possible, but a great opportunity) with young children. 

When considering what to cover, we decided to let the people attending set the agenda. Sitting around four tables, they created a list of what they might consider 'barriers' to overseas mission - the things that would make them reluctant to go. The list they produced as almost exactly as we anticipated, and we then went through each point in turn, looking both at the Bible, and also our own experiences of serving God overseas. Much of it may have relevance to the readers of this blog, so I will summarise the discussion here.

1) Health. 
This is often top of the list. What would you do if you became seriously unwell overseas? Are there not loads of incurable tropical illnesses? How do you manage without good access to healthcare? Of course the precise answers will depend on exactly where you are and what you are doing, and also might vary depending on whether you have any pre-existing health problems to consider. But we need to remember that God is sovereign - Psalm 139 states 'All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be'; in fact, these words are engraved on my daughter's grave. God already knows what illnesses will occur. When considering risk, there tends to be an assumption that there is no risk involved in staying at home; this is a very simplistic and naive view, because illness or accident could occur at any point. This piece written by a doctor regarding response to the Ebola epidemic makes this point well. Furthermore, I believe health is one of the greatest idols of our current generation. Let me ask you, what proportion of prayer requests at your church are relating to health issues as compared to spiritual issues? Who is to say that God cannot use illness, even death, for His glory. I do not make this point lightly. When our daughter was born, we prayed that God would use her life greatly. We had many ideas and dreams about what that might look like, but we certainly did not expect that it would be through a cardiac arrest at nine weeks of age, evacuation to a South African city where we had never been and knew nobody, and death from brain injury six weeks later. However, through that time I do not think I have known greater spiritual blessing despite the human anguish. Nearby Christians heard of our situation and rallied around - we were welcomed to live with a family with five children. We were lent a car. When we could not change money, gifts were given at just the right time. But more than that amazing physical and practical provision, the gospel was clearly preached. We knew 'the peace of God that surpasses understanding' (Philippians 4:6-7). We knew a 'hope that does not disappoint us' (Romans 5:5). We knew the absolute certain reality of heaven, and that 'our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.' and that 'what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.' (2 Corinthians 4:16-17). Through conversation and many emails, we were able to clearly describe this hope and confidence to others, many of who did not know God. And at both her funeral and her memorial service, the churches were packed with people we had been praying for for many years. Even now, seven years later, people tell me of how her life impacted on their faith. Yes I look back with sadness, but without questioning that God's plan here was bigger than I had imagined. 

For us, having walked through this, we know that whatever happens, God does not change. Our next child had malaria aged seven months, but recovered quickly. Our next son had some life-threatening infections and at one point was close to death - but went on to make a full recovery. In each of these situations, we have known God's comfort and strength.

2) Children
Often children and health go together - and I can only advise people to be prayerful and seek wisdom here. For example, it may well be better (if resources make it possible) to give birth in a country which has reasonable medical services. In my last pregnancy, I was admitted to hospital eight times and had I been overseas, I would have needed to return home. But many of my other thoughts regarding health are discussed above.

The second major issue with children is education. And along with education, socialisation. I believe this too to be an idol of our current generation, and I think there is a lot of misunderstanding as to what constitutes a 'good' education and what real-life 'socialisation' might actually look like. Again, I never want to be dogmatic and suggest there is a 'one size fits all' solution; that would be naive, and it is worth noting that the Bible does not speak specifically on this area. Rather we are giving guiding principles. I would encourage parents to consider what the most important thing is for their children. What are the most important lessons? I would encourage them to be creative in embracing the opportunities which present themselves in daily life - these are different, but often extremely rich in cross-cultural settings. There are many different options - for us, home education currently fulfils our goals for our children, but one could also consider local pre-schools  and schools (with the advantages of learning local language and culture) - perhaps with top-up lessons at home. Or for those who are uneasy, it might be helpful to consider a very structured home education curriculum that closely follows the national curriculum of ones home country. I would challenge parents to think outside the box, to talk to several other families who had travelled with young children and to spend time considering resources and materials. Some (ie Sonlight) have been specifically developed with the missionary family in mind.

3) Finances
A huge challenge can be the need to raise appropriate financial support - and the amount required does tend to increase as the family grows. Taking the lead from pioneer missionary Hudson Taylor, many mission organisations have a 'by faith' policy, whereby missionaries must never ask specifically for finances (unless direct questions are asked of them). This has a clear Biblical precedent, but can seem intimidating to many. Again, this comes down to trust in God. I know many testimonies of those who have been down to their last penny when a donation has arrived (the story of George Mueller is particularly inspiring in this respect). Or of clinics which have run low on essential materials, only to receive an anonymous package, just in time. You might say that God has never provided for you in that way. But have you ever been in that position of need? With finance (and indeed many other resources, such as stamina, strength, faith, wisdom) God does not often give you a 'bank account' full, so that you can look to the future and see that you have accumulated enough for your hour of need! However, He does know all that is needed. Consider the model prayer of Christ: 'Give us today our daily bread' - He knows what we need, although it is important to comment that this may differ from all that we want! Read the beautiful words in Matthew 6: 25-33: '“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.'

4) Language, culture, loneliness, isolation
(And specific things, like 'lack of clean toilets' and 'lack of privacy')
These are real issues, and again, I think it would be naive to say that they are not. I do not know any overseas mission workers who have not struggled with these things at some time or other. Psalm 37 says 'Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart'. Sometimes we think that if we have a strong desire to work in a particular area, then that must be a selfish rather than God-given desire. But that is not how God works! Often He gives a specific skill or vocation to be used for His glory - that is our story, and although we have worked in Africa with a mission organisation, a lot of our work has been in secular institutes, using our clinical, research and teaching skills. God is a loving Father, not an authoritarian taskmaster. Rather,“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!' (Matthew 7:9-11) . God knows that work will be tough at times, and gives us the resources to cope in such situations. I have heard many examples of people who have been poor at languages being able to learn quickly when there was a need; this is not invariable - there are times when it proves too difficult. Advice can be taken on this - there do exist language aptitude tests which mission organisations can use to help place candidates in appropriate countries. Regarding culture-shock, this is an almost universal process of adapting to change. The stages are well described, from the initial 'honeymoon period' where everything seems exotic and fascinating, through to the disillusionment and frustration that comes after several months before (hopefully) reaching a new state of equilibrium. There are also then problems of 'reverse culture shock' on return home, and for some (I'd put ourselves into this category) we never really feel 'at home' on this earth again. This can be both good and bad, depending on how you view it!

5) Lack of a Specific 'Calling'
I think great confusion can arise at this point. What does one require as a 'calling'? It may be that you know somebody who has always clearly felt directed to serve God in a specific way in a specific place. You may know another person who clearly felt 'called' to quit their job, and do something radically different in a far corner of the earth. But I believe that both of these are less common. How does God speak? How does God guide? There are many books, sermons and other resources on this topic! (Briefly - through the Bible, prayer, Christian friendships and counsel, circumstances, desires, dreams - and yes, also at times through the supernatural). But I would say that the Bible is clear on a couple of principles: Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20). And in the words of the Apostle Paul, ' for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:13-15). Many other passages speak of stewardship of our resources, and serving God with our heart, soul, mind and strength. This means using all that we have to reach out to others with the good news of salvation. The prophet Micah said, 'He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8). Often, putting all of this into practice will involve using our God-given skills in the hardest, neediest, most spiritually dark places on earth. And that is global mission.

6) More specific questions on training - Bible training, skills needed, courses required
These sometimes come up among the first questions asked, but I have put these towards the end for a reason. I believe that if you are being obedient to God, then He will guide you and direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6). By the time you are seriously considering going, the specific place and task may have become clear - and if so, then the specific requirements may well be more apparent now than at the start. As mentioned above, it is highly possible that God has given you a skill or vocation already - medicine (and related fields), teaching, IT, building, project management, accountancy, art, music and many others - that God can use. Or it may be that your role is in church planting ministry - but even here, no skill you have will go to waste!

And if it really is not the right time......

God is sovereign and He guides through our circumstances too. It might be that illness, caring responsibilities, other pressures and challenges mean it is not possible for you to seriously consider going overseas to serve God at this point in your life. But you can certainly be involved in Global Mission - and if (as many readers of this blog are) you are educating your children, this is an ideal time for them also to learn. Get old of Operation World (or the children's version). Read stories of missionaries. Watch video clips teaching on global missions. Pray together. Write to missionaries that you support (and if your church does not support missionaries, ask why not!). Get a map of the world and put it on the wall where the children can reach it - show them the journeys which were made by early missionaries. Mark where 'your' missionaries are. Read the Acts of the Apostles. And you will be encouraged by the childlike passion with which these concepts are embraced.