pray4schoolstart: week 1

pray4schoolstart1Hello all! Whoop-whoop, cheer and shout, wave flags, blast your trumpet – for today, this blog gets its prayer on like never before.

If you have no idea what’s going on, read this. And then – let’s start praying for our kids as they start their new schools! Pray along with me if you like – there’ll be a different focus each week – or just ignore me! I don’t care, I’m not a prayer expert, and I’m just too excited that we can all be praying together to worry about who’s praying for what!

But – because you’d complain if I stopped the blog post right there, and ask for your money back etc etc (in a fantasy world where this blog is pay-to-view), here’s a little eye-opener into how my prayers will be shaped this week.

I will be focussing on praying for my son, Joel – as the weeks progress, I’ll be moving the focus out more widely to include his peers, teachers, school leaders and governors, and families/community. But this week, it’s him.

Why not join me in focussing your prayers on your child (or a child you know) about to start school?

We could pray:

* for our kids to settle well into the new environment/classroom

* for them to make friends and have fun playing and learning with others

* for them to develop the particular talents God has gifted them with – academic, sporty, musical, arty, culinary, outdoorsy… (aren’t schools SO MUCH BETTER equipped to offer all these things than they were When We Were Young? Oh dear, there’s that phrase…)

* for them to be kind and treat others as their neighbours, loving and including them

* for them to make wise decisions, when apart from us

* for them to remember what they’ve learned about Jesus at home, and learn to apply it in the new, complex situations they’ll find themselves in

Please comment below on what you’re praying for, or any encouraging testimony relating to your child and their new school. Thanks! See you next week!

P.S. I want to make this blog colourful and picturesque – but it’s week 1 and already I’m running low on school-related photo ideas. I’m hoping that there’ll be something school-related each week, which I can snap and put up here – this week it’s been all about the uniform, hence the pic. Next week – uh, a lunch box?? Suggestions welcome…

pray 4 schoolstart!

pray4schoolstart(Check me out, with the cool text-over-image going on. I am indebted to Addie Zierman and Fotor for being clever where I am not. Apparently, this is a ‘pinnable’ image. Next step: work out how the heck to link up with Pinterest.)

I am not very good at praying. York now has a House of Prayer, and many of our friends are involved: I am therefore surrounded by people who are Good At Praying, to whom it comes naturally and who speak of longing to pray as I would speak of longing to eat chocolate.

But I know that prayer is powerful, and therefore I do want to pray. And, in particular, I want to pray for my son starting school in September, as mentioned in this post. (And did I mention – maybe just one hundred gazillion times - that this made Mumsnet’s blog of the day on Thursday??!! Hello, 15 minutes of fame…)

Many of you have a child, or know someone who has a child, who is also starting school this year. Perhaps you want to join me as we lift our children, their teachers, classmates, headteachers and governors before our God?

If you do, then great – here’s the deal: every Monday over the 6-week summer holidays, I’ll be posting some ideas of what I’m specifically praying for that week. It won’t be a conclusive list, just a sort of general focus for that week. I’ll put a summary on Facebook in case you can’t be bothered to read the full post, and I’d like to say I’ll link it all up with Twitter and Pinterest and all that jazz, but really – can you see me working out that sort of thing in the next few days? Or ever?

Take a look, follow the posts, and perhaps it will kick-start some new prayers in your life as I hope it does in mine. Please feel free to share this with others you know who have children about to start school.

And if you’ve never prayed before – why not give it a whirl? What’s the worst that can happen? There’s no solution to agnosticism like praying and getting an answer ;)

Can you imagine the impact if hundreds (thousands?) of parents up and down the country (world?) got seriously praying for their children’s schools? Can you imagine revival? Or at least a decrease in bullying? An increase in raised aspirations? Better behaviour? Fantastic teaching? Happy, well-rounded children taking part in a variety of creative educational opportunities?

Please join me! The Bible says that where two or three are gathered, Jesus is there. We can’t be gathered physically, but let’s use our combined social media clout to see God’s Kingdom come in our schools! (And of course you’re more than welcome to join in if your child is already at school!)

Do comment, too – I definitely won’t remember everything to pray for, so please add things I’ve forgotten, or even a prayer request for your child/school. I’d love to share the prayer burden with you, and I’m sure my lovely readership would too. Please also use the comments box to share some encouragement with the rest of us. Perhaps your child has had a good playdate with another child who’ll be in the same class. Perhaps you’ve found out about a Christian member of staff or governor. Whatever it is – we want to hear about it! Let’s make the next six weeks a time for mutual prayer and encouragement for our children’s schools.

A small note: my son is starting primary school. Do join us if your child is starting secondary school too! But please forgive and ignore anything I say which is primary-specific. Thank you!

her smile is unravelling…

2014-07-16 21.15.32Daisy is her pride and joy. She gets taken everywhere – to bed, to parties, on holidays, to gym club. Since Daisy arrived in our family two Christmases ago, she has rarely been put down. Recently, she spent an accidental three-month-long holiday at Granny’s – and jubilant was the reunion that occurred a few weeks ago.

But, just recently, I noticed something:

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Daisy’s smile is unravelling.

I was initially frustrated (Another Job Which Won’t Get Done) but then breathed a sigh of relief – after all, the most well-loved soft toys are the ones with loose thread, or a button sewn on in place of an eye, aren’t they? Daisy has always been loved – but now she’s starting to show it.

***

We have always been loved – but as we grow in realisation and understanding of that love, we may find that we start to become unravelled too. Our seams that we thought were so strong in holding our fragile lives together start to tear, gently at first, and then all of a sudden there’s a rip, and a hole, and a great big wadge of stuffing pokes out. Don’t we become desperate to poke it back in? Desperate to cling to the security of our former lives?

If your smile is unravelling, if your seams are bursting, if you’re getting a little grubby round the edges, then take heart in knowing that you are well loved. The breaking, the coming apart, the changing – it hurts a little (or a lot). But the God you cling to loves you and is changing you to look more like the well-loved child of God that you are. The process may be painful – but the end will be glorious.

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Daisy’s smile will eventually go. There will be a short period of expressionless Daisy, and then I’ll most probably find a permanent marker, and draw the smile back on. Perhaps eventually her nose will be replaced, and her eyes. Maybe her stitching will need to be fixed. Daisy will never be the same again – perhaps she will not look quite so perfect – but she will be stronger and more resilient and just as loved.

If only I would let my old self crumble in the hands of my all-loving Father as easily.

that blog post what i wrote the other day…

Wow.

The post I published a few days ago seemed to hit a note with a lot of people, having had three times as many views as my other best-read posts. Wednesday’s blog views were a new record - three times the previous record. There were lots of Facebook shares. Friends, this is the closest I’ll ever come to going ‘viral’. Hello, online presence (whatever you are)…

It may be ill-advised to follow it up with a second post – the tricky ‘second album’ which flops because it turns out you already released the only good songs you’ll ever write. Luckily, though, I’m not writing this blog for numbers or popularity or cash, and I have no expectation that the following words will be as widely read. They’re just a few things I’ve thought through since writing the last post – and, as usual, which have been sparked by many of your comments, here on the blog or on Facebook. Thank you for interacting with me – it keeps my baby brain ticking over!

I wanted to make clear – if it wasn’t already – that we have no choice over where we live. The ‘postcode lottery’, which some are able to avoid through moving to houses in the catchment areas of ‘good schools’, affects us – as it does so many families up and down the UK. Many are in social housing, with little choice over where they live. Others are tied in to rent agreements or mortgages which they can’t afford to change. In our case, this house comes with my husband’s job. So, for different reasons, we can empathise with those who have no choice over where they live, remembering that this choice which many of us take for granted is actually a luxury.

But let me make something very, very clear: this has not been a difficult decision for us. While I’m grateful for everyone’s positive responses to the school-choice we’ve made for our son, I’ve also felt a little guilty when reading some people’s comments, which make out like we’re some sort of incredibly pioneering missionaries who make desperately selfless, hugely sacrificial decisions. Whilst God does sometimes call us to decisions which are genuinely painful and difficult and humbling, He also prepares us well for carrying them out. In my experience, this means that something which may have been hard to do a couple of years ago actually becomes a joy, a delight. Why do we not always expect that God will change our hearts on things which matter to Him? This is what discipleship – and this blog – is all about. Moving forward. Not settling for a static faith.

Let me share a few things which have made this decision an easy one. Two of Joel’s preschool friends are moving up with him – God has provided friends before he’s even started. (The remaining eight preschool leavers are going to seven different schools between them.) We know a parent-governor at the school, who gave us loads of useful information last year, as we were deciding. She was honest about the school’s failures, but also positive about its direction and many positives. It seems that nearly every week now God’s putting people in my life who have some link with the school. I’ve met more people like me who are trusting the school, even though they could get their child into a different school if they wished.

I could go on. Do you get it? God puts us where we are for a reason. It all adds up. Deciding to send Joel to this school was not an agonising decision – it seemed the easiest decision in the world. Yes, God does call us to sacrificial living – but He often, very graciously, puts us in a position where we are joyful about those sacrifices. And, one day, we wake up and it seems like the sacrifices have gone altogether, so faded are they to insignificance. It’s not about waiting for a loud, booming voice to come from Heaven: it’s about learning to follow God more closely, day by day, as His word guides and challenges us. He will provide what’s needed for all that He asks of us, and He will never let us go.

why i’m sending my kid to a school in special measures

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It was never meant to be the case.

The kids and I often walked past the fag-smoking, obscenity-shrieking parents at drop-off or pick-up time, but I knew we’d not be living here when the time came to make a Decision. As a teacher, the school did provoke my curiosity – but there was no point wasting time or energy finding out about it.

And then, gradually, as God revealed plans for us to stay exactly where we are, ministering in this area and living in this Vicarage, the Hypothetical turned to Actual. We were Actually going to have to make a decision – and this establishment, with its poor test results and shocking attendance figures, was our catchment school. The head of Joel’s preschool had warned us of the ‘rough families’ it attracted, and advised not to go near it with a barge pole. Our next-door-neighbour’s daughter, having spent a few weeks in the school, was told by one of the teachers that there was a “much better school down the road”, with the implication that this intelligent young girl would be better catered for there. She promptly moved school.

With these less-than-savoury second-hand impressions, you might have wondered why two Oxbridge-educated, qualified-teacher parents didn’t consider the ‘better school down the road’ – after all, the ‘better’ school is less than ten minutes’ walk away. Hardly unjustifiable in terms of the whole Sending-Your-Child-To-The-Local-School ethic. But, as we found ourselves falling more and more for this area, so we found ourselves falling more and more for the school over the road. Going into special measures last year (the lowest rating given by Ofsted, the national inspectors for schools) was the best thing for the place. There’s a new headteacher, new staff, new equipment, and stacks of funding for improving just about everything. The school has an optimistic feel. The children we’ve seen have been on task, polite and friendly. This is one of the reasons we’re entrusting our son to the school for the next few years. Another is because, as a teacher, I want to see this school improve, and know that it can only go so far unless it has a majority of parents who are committed to the place. We’re hooking up to this increasing mass of supportive families, and can’t wait.

But that’s only a fraction of it.

For each loud-mouthed mum screaming at her many, many kids outside the school gates, there are ten others who we don’t see because we don’t hear. They support education. They support the school. They want to do what’s right for their child. Actually, they’re not too dissimilar to me.

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And the loud-mouths and the invisible ones – well, that’s just surface stuff. Underneath, there are a lot of hurting families living in poverty or chaos or both. I know this because all Reception kids are given breakfast during the first part of the school day. This is not a Breakfast Club for rich, working parents – this is because not every child will get breakfast at home. Also, we were told that it would be really good  if we could label all our kids’ clothes – but not to worry if we didn’t manage to do it, as the Reception staff would do it for us. In my sheltered Home-Counties upbringing, I never had to worry about my clothes being unnamed – but if you’re attempting to raise your family in the midst of abuse, debt, relational breakdown or whatever, whether to go iron-on or permanent marker is the least of your worries.

We need to be in this place. We need to learn that privilege is the exception, not the rule. We need to get to know families who can educate us about what life is like for them. We need to develop empathy, and discover how we can best serve those who struggle. We need to be here because Jesus would be here. It’s time to stop ignoring the poor.

Now please understand that I’m not criticising anyone who, in the same position, would have made a different decision. We each have different and complex criteria surrounding the decision-making process when it comes to our children’s education, and I’m not the one to judge. All I know is that when Jesus returns, we will need to account for the decisions we made – and, on this occasion, we feel convicted that this is the choice God is calling us to make.

Am I concerned for my son? That he will learn to swear? That he will follow the wrong ringleader? That he will be bullied? Yes – but no more than I would were he going to any other school. In fact, the environment he’ll be going into has made me pray all the harder for Joel: that he would be a leader, not a follower. That he would stand up for good. That he would be kind to others. That the prophetic word given at his dedication service – “touched by the hand of God for his generation” – would start to bear fruit.

God is in this school – and, we believe, wants to bring many of its students, parents and staff to know Him.

Sending Joel to this school was never supposed to happen – but, actually, it’s no mistake.

4: hospitality and personal space

This is part of a (very drawn-out) mini-series on hospitality. Click on the ‘Hospitality’ tab at the top of the page to read the other posts. If you’re encouraged or challenged by it, please consider sharing it with someone you think would appreciate it too. Thank you!

By a long way, the chief obstacle to giving hospitality in our Western culture seems to be the notion of personal space. Whether it’s a defence of why hospitality isn’t being offered, or a response to someone else’s generous hospitality, the essence is that a) we have personal space, b) we like personal space, and c) we don’t want to trade it in. We enjoy having our things to ourselves. We like being able to follow our own agenda. We like being able to watch our programmes, eat our food, play our music at the volume we like. We’re happy to give out when we’re outside the home – but home is our time for recharging, relaxing, indulging.

We have personal space. And, therefore, we think it’s a right. Not many generations ago most families would have been living in one or two rooms. Now we not only have separate spaces for cooking, living and sleeping, but many of us have a spare room or study or playroom or additional ‘luxury’ space – and so we’ve become complacent, accepting this as the norm, whereas, by the world’s standards, it’s an anomaly. Jesus didn’t have a home – and therefore no permanent ‘personal space’. Interestingly, the times of personal space we read about in Jesus’ life were times he spent alone with His father – praying, often fasting, seeking God’s will to become clear, and pouring out his heart in return.

We like personal space. Now that we have the luxury of a space to call ours, a space to be alone, a space to drop pretences and be ourselves, we want to keep it. We want to hoard it to ourselves because we’re worried that, if we don’t, we will lack the energy or drive needed to function outside the home – whether in paid employment, church ministry, or relationships with friends. Jesus’ model was to recharge with God.

We don’t want to trade in our personal space. We don’t want to offer hospitality, or certainly not very much of it, because we perceive that we need personal space. We also like it. We’re concerned about getting grumpy with those who come into our homes. We’re concerned that we won’t be able to entertain, to perform, to show our guests a good time.

There are things I want to say, things I need to hear. I have offered some grumpy, self-centred, self-interested and half-hearted hospitality over the last few months. On one day I write these blog posts on hospitality – and on the following day I grumble about the people coming into our home, the time they’ve popped in, the expectations they’ve come with, or the jobs I was going to do before my evening was so rudely interrupted. The first thing I need to hear (and maybe you do too, if you can relate to any of this) is that hospitality is always worth giving. Regardless of how I’m feeling. I mean, ideally we would be wonderfully generous and serving all the time – and, in God’s strength, hopefully we’re becoming more Christ-like in our hospitality. But hospitality is not about putting on a show. It’s about letting down defences, allowing those around us to see Christian living in all its glory, pain, hilarity, grump, perfection, mess, 100daysofhappiness and 10,000daysofhumdrumness. It’s about grace. It’s OK to be normal when people are in our home – in fact, it’s crucial.

I’m sitting here writing a blog whilst keeping an occasional eye on the England-Italy World Cup match. Six of us are grouped round our telly, three who don’t live here. And I’m blogging. But it’s normal. No one’s asking why I’m not in the conversation, or missing the near-goal which just happened. It’s my home, I’m just being normal. But so is everyone else. They can sprawl themselves on our sofa and help themselves to drinks because they know this space is theirs too. There’s no entertaining. Everyone’s just being normal.

The second thing I need to hear is that my source of energy needs to be God. If I’m recharging by watching TV, baking a cake, sewing a cushion, playing endless games of Settlers of Catan – then I have to question whether I’m being fully charged, and whether I’m being charged appropriately for the good works God has for me to do (Ephesians 2:10). I don’t use my phone charger to charge my toothbrush, or my laptop charger for my camera. I need to trust that the One who made me knows best how I need to be strengthened, rested and re-energised. And I need to trust that, if I’m seeking His will above all else, He will provide the times of rest.

*

And now, friends, I’ve had my moment of personal space so, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to the football…

frivolity and depth

Hello.

It’s been a while, friends, and for that I apologise. Before you accuse me of idleness (because you know you’re about to do just that), let me fill you in on how time has been spent.

We are doing awesome things with our garden. I’m allowed to boast, because for the last five years our garden has borne an uncanny resemblance to a piece of community wasteland. I swear it’s only the assortment of random, second-hand kids’ play equipment, strewn across what passes for a lawn, that has kept the re-developers away. If you don’t believe me, then this:

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So now, in that space, we have a playhouse and play garden which is all kinds of cool:

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(I’m not entirely sure that this wasn’t built purely for selfish reasons – but then again, much of parenting is just about reliving childhood, so why feel guilt? And, in case you were asking [which you probably weren't], the playhouse was preloved, the stones for the path were from a stash we already had in our garage, the tree stumps were free, and the table was upcycled from a piece of scrap MDF and a broken kiddies’ bass drum. Enough said. Oh, and I bought the fence new. Sorry.)

Then our friend got trigger-happy with a chainsaw, and now our overbearing rosehip is no more:

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I realise the second picture looks even worse than the first – not your archetypal before/after pics - I can confirm that the bits of tree have now been carted away, but it’s currently pushing midnight and if I take a pic then all you’ll get is black, and you don’t want that now do you?

We’ve discovered the wonder that is Boj. Pure joy, from the catchy Jason Donovan theme tune (just what is the third line?) right through to the bizarre food combinations and eco undertones. As part of Joel’s ongoing musical education, I will soon be showing him on repeat as many Jason videos as YouTube can throw at us.

I visited a church-run community cafe in a local suburb, and thought about how we might make that idea work in our community.

Lois potty-trained:

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She will now no longer be able to take photos of me changing her nappy:

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Although New Year was approximately five minutes ago, it is now June - which can only mean one thing: elderflower! The sweet scent lines our every path at the moment – and we’re looking forward to making cordial pretty soon. If you’ve never made it, you must! Right now! Here’s the recipe which works for us. It’s so delicious, you’ll never return to the bought stuff ever again. This year might even be the year where we branch out and make sorbet too. Go crazy.

We helped out at our local community garden for the first time, one warm, sunny Saturday morning. The kids picked litter, watered plants, played in mud, and amused themselves jumping off a large soil pile for ages. We learnt about the amazing potential of free fruit and veg for the community.

I’ve started to volunteer for The Besom. Entering people’s homes, enjoying their accidental hospitality, has made me ask questions about need, and the cycle of poverty, and shifting cultures, and benefits, and how so many families can’t support their own kids through an education which might raise their aspirations because they’re worrying about how to give them dinner that night. And there can be no greater worry for a parent than whether you’re going to be able to feed your kids.

I thought about blogging, and whether to stop. I concluded that I would keep going, but work more on my writing style. I never started this blog because I believed I was a writer, but now I’ve become one – and, as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility. I feel responsible for making my blog fun and interesting to read, and sometimes, let’s face it, it’s been dross. Sorry. Will amend. Let me know if you notice any difference.

I made salad soup. Honestly. I had salad that was going to turn bad before being eaten, and I hate to throw food away. Turns out it’s one of the nicest soups in the world and I can’t believe I didn’t Google this earlier.

Craft production has gone a bit insane. I made oven gloves for my mum:

2014-04-20 21.53.33followed by a heck of a lot of (blank) greetings cards for her birthday (one per year of her life, i.e. a lot), my first ever three-tiered cake for a friend’s 21st:

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cushion covers for our lounge:

2014-06-05 22.33.02 and a present-that-shall-not-be-named-for-she-has-yet-to-receive-it for my friend. I still haven’t finished the quilt, updated Lois’ scrapbook or baked a cake for our housemate’s birthday on Saturday. I am trying to learn that it’s OK to buy things rather than spend insane hours of the night sewing, sticking or icing. Pray for me.

Al and I got chatting to CAP about how we might partner with them in our community. I realised the urgency of saving lives, marriages, families and kids’ futures being wrecked by debt – and we both felt a strong urge to set up a Debt Centre as.soon.as.

This call to the poor, if that’s what it is, has been simmering away for two or three years, bubbling up gradually until setting point, 2014, the year when Besom, CAP, community gardens and cafes all enter the mix. God knows the outcome. Dare I pray for revival amongst the poor in my lifetime?

The frivolous and the deep. That’s how life goes. But who’s to tell which is which?

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What frivolous and/or deep things have you been up to recently?