leaving well

2013-01-30 21.30.07Later this year, we will be leaving York. It’s something that occupies my mind a lot these days, because I’m so determined to leave well.

I imagine that ‘change’ will be a big theme on this blog during 2013, so I’m not going to try and say everything I’m thinking here. Suffice to say that York feels like a best friend to me – a loyal supporter of my attempts at motherhood, a fertile soil for the cultivation of new experiences, relationships and ideas. Whatever the analogy, separating from York will be difficult and painful.

So I’m determined to leave well. I don’t want to wish away the next few months with dreams of the next place. I don’t want to sulk away the next few months with introspective gloom. Under the banner of celebration, I want to take every opportunity to spend time with the people I love. Usually, my conversation is littered with phrases like “We should…” and “Maybe we can…” but I’m learning to replace them with the more definite tones of “When are you free?” and “Let’s do…”. Everything worth celebrating over the next few months is going to be celebrated: birthdays, new babies, Easter, leaving. And I’m going to cram in as much time with friends as I possibly can.

Leaving has also reminded me of the things I’d still like to do in York and its surrounds. Go on the wheel, visit the Forbidden Corner, eat here again. There’s now more urgency to fix a date to enjoy these attractions.

I have been privileged to serve with a few different groups whilst we’ve been here: Tuesday Tots (our church toddler group), Mums’ Belfrey Group and Gracetots (under 3s group at our Sunday congregation). It’s a high priority to make sure that these groups continue to flourish, through training and commissioning new people to get involved. I don’t worry about this: I know God will provide. If He doesn’t, I shall have to have Words. 😉

The practicalities of a house-move – for me, at least – always force the ugly issue of possessions. We have far too much! So, rather than move it all to a new house, we’re going to attempt some sort of clear-out, and hope to sell as much as possible in aid of CAP, one of our absolutely favourite charities. (If you’re York-based, do come along and buy our junk…first weekend in March…email me for details.)

I know that no amount of planning and activity can hide the emotions I’ll feel when the time comes to go, but since I can’t predict those emotions, I’m happy to make the most of York while I can. And I have confidence in my God, who is constant, to go before us and plan good things.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Lamentations 3:22-23

say what you see

School science lessons are, generally, something I’ve forgotten. However, one simple activity I remember well. It was a lesson starter: we were given a sheet of paper, on which were drawn a handful of cartoon pictures, each one with a statement underneath. We then had to discuss whether the statement was something which we could emphatically say was true, with only the picture to go on – or whether it was merely an assumption.

Most of the pictures were straightforward, and I don’t remember them in any detail. But, unsurprisingly, the one which was trickier to work out is the one I remember clearly. A child was standing on a pond which had frozen over. There was a sign visible, which read: “Danger: thin ice” or similar. The statement was “The child is being very silly.” Well, of course he was. Our group was in total agreement. However, when we came to discuss our answers as a class, the teacher asked “How do you know he’s being silly? He might be going to rescue someone who’s drowning.”

Of course the point was made very clearly. Science is about testing things to see if they’re true. A good scientist must train themselves not to make assumptions with no evidence.

I’m not a scientist, but I do have trouble with assumptions. You see, I’m very judgemental. I’m not proud of it – in fact I hate the way my mind jumps to judgements about a person or a situation – but there we go. I’m a judge. There’s no better job I could be doing right now to refine and hone this part of my character, because whenever I see a parent with a small child, I’m liable to make assumptions. And, when I do, I’m instantly convicted. God is helping transform me into someone who lets Him do the judging, not me.

It’s so easy to do: I see a parent, pushing their child in a pushchair, and a mundane feature such as what the child is eating, what the parent is doing, or how the two are interacting, can lead me to come to all manner of unfair conclusions. Actually, I need to remember that the vast majority of parents are doing the very best for their children, and I should instead look to praise, build up, smile and encourage those I meet. Perhaps you identify with some of my struggles?

If you do, then can I encourage you that the next time you see a small child out in the snow with no hat or gloves, you stop inwardly berating the irresponsible mother, and just smile sweetly instead.

Because that irresponsible mother is me. And that child is Lois – who, for love nor money, will not keep a hat or gloves on for more than a second!

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Un-gloved and un-hatted Lois, enjoying herself in the snow!

Dancing round the lounge (a pedagogical justification)

A picture of a young boy enthusiastically playing air guitar with a toy broom!

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As any parent of two or more kids will know, it can be pretty difficult to find an activity that all your children can enjoy together.

Last year, with toddler Mister and baby Missy, one of the activities which we all enjoyed was dancing. Mister has always loved moving to music and Missy would go all giggly being swung around in my arms as I threw some shapes to Blur, Ben Folds Five, The Proclaimers…whatever we could lay our snotty little hands on.

Over the last few months, Missy has started to spontaneously bounce around whenever music comes on; she doesn’t need to be told. I like to think that this is partly due to the crazed antics of her mother in her first few months!

With my music educator’s hat on, any sort of movement to music is an excellent tool for learning. It was something we were encouraged to do in the classroom, although you can imagine I never had a huge amount of success with the age bracket entrusted to me. (11-18…just the age when you want to make an idiot of yourself in front of your peers.)

For those of you who, like me, enjoy a bit of dancing every now and again, I thought I’d encourage you with some thoughts on its benefits. For those of you who wouldn’t be seen dead choreographing to the music your toddler requests, maybe this will make you think again!

Moving to music has no rules, no set outcomes, no predicted end result. Healthy participation in these sorts of activities encourages creative problem-solving – the antithesis of a spoon-fed education.

Your child is coping with a ‘problem’ (“Music with no choreography…what shall we do?”) and learning how to come up with the ‘solution’ (“I could jump around, then throw my hands in the air, then spin round, then nod my head…”). Of course none of this is being articulated verbally but it’s happening none the less.

Moving to music helps us to gain an intrinsic sense of rhythm. When our whole bodies are involved in ‘feeling’ the pulse, we develop an instinctive knowledge of beats, bars and time signatures. From a young child’s perspective, this gives them a great head-start for learning an instrument later on.

When we move to music we are experiencing that music in a deeper way than by just listening to it. We notice far more about the music’s rhythm, changes in texture, bass line, counter melodies, and so on, because we’re looking for clues that will help us know what to dance. For young children especially, with limited communication skills, dancing is a great way to express what a particular piece of music means to them.

Dancing in an unstructured way in a supportive environment develops confidence and boosts self-esteem. It encourages us to let go of ourselves – and gives us the freedom to try new things and make mistakes. What important life-skills for a young child to start learning!

Add to this the fact that dancing is a great form of exercise, doesn’t necessitate leaving the house and has the potential to entertain several different-aged children at once…and you get a pretty strong argument for dancing round the lounge!

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parenthood and meeting together

The third in my (very slow) series of being a disciple as a parent (see the first and second posts) deals with ‘meeting together’. In the 1970s, this was called ‘fellowship’ – but I’m told by Al not to use that word if I want this blog to remain credible. And if it’s him telling me that – him who listens to Elkie Brooks and knows more sports statistics from the 1980s than now – then I’d better listen.

“And let us 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 10:24-25

So…what is ‘meeting together’? Church once a week? Well, yes, partly. It’s good for us and our kids to grow up within a church family, getting into that pattern of meeting together regularly as a bunch of believers. And actually the kids’ groups in most churches model a really good form of meeting together. Even Joel, at just 3, is in a small group where there is opportunity to chat stuff through. But that doesn’t usually happen at ‘grown-up’ church!

So, much as church is important, of immense value is the small accountability group model: somewhere safe, with good relationships, where you can be honest with others. This could mean simply finding another Christian to pray with on a regular basis, and some of my friends do this. What a great way to grow your faith as a young parent!

One of the downsides to online ‘meeting together’, e.g. Facebook or Twitter, is that you tend to see only people’s highlights. Before long, you start to believe that everyone else frequents luxury spas on a weekly basis, has genius children who look great in every photo, and an incredibly romantic husband who brings home thoughtful gifts each night of the week. When you are in real relationship with others, you see everything: the highlights, the lowlights, the in-between-lights. I believe this is one of the reasons why we need to take seriously those verses in Hebrews.

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We’re not usually this serious…I asked them to put their heads down just in case they didn’t like this blog post and wanted anonymity!

I am incredibly fortunate here to belong to a daytime cell group for mums.* Every Monday afternoon, a group of mums gather together in our study for an hour to worship, read the Bible, chat about it, and pray together. For someone who rarely goes to the toilet without interruption from a Small Person, this is a Big Thing. Our children, meanwhile, are being superbly entertained in the lounge by some wonderful creche volunteers…

Honestly, these guys are unsung heroes. I try to tell them how much their work is appreciated, but I don’t think they believe me. While they’re building towers, bopping to nursery rhymes, sorting out snacks, reasoning with toddlers, rocking babies and being jumped on (often simultaneously), lives are being changed in the next room.

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The state of the lounge after the kids have had a go…

Does that sound overdramatic? Maybe. Sure, it’s a gradual thing, but when I look back over the last 12 months and see where God has taken me, I know I owe a huge amount to this group. My faith could easily have become stagnant during this phase of early motherhood. Instead, the input of others, their challenge, their making me think – God is using these things to draw me, and many others, closer to Him. And it’s something as simple as playing Duplo with my kids for an hour that enables this life-change – this growing of my mustard-seed faith – to happen. It’s not just knowing God is there somewhere in the background, it’s seeing Him do amazing things during these otherwise desert years. Exciting!

If you’re a young parent, how do you continue ‘meeting together’ with other Christians? If you can’t think of anything – have you ever thought about starting something? Meeting up with a Christian friend regularly? Or even getting together the mums in your church to start something?

*We actually call them ‘Belfrey groups’, just so you know, but for the purposes of this blog I’ll refer to them as cells, as that’s a more familiar term.

goodbye 2012…hello 2013

Happy new year!

I hope the festive season was a good one for you. For me it was brilliant: a much-needed break, one which has brought me back home refreshed and eager to start the new term – and year – in anticipation of all that God will do.

I said I would explain my last post a little. Firstly, I want to make clear that, on the whole, my life is pretty good. Several of my friends suffered in a very painful way during Advent, and by blogging about my small-by-comparison woes, I’m certainly not making light of their suffering. But perhaps it’s helpful to communicate small hardships too. Perhaps it encourages others that it’s OK to be a bit miserable, that you don’t have to be standing on a cliff-top before you share your feelings.

Some very lovely things happened during Advent. We had a wonderful friend come stay for a weekend, and made many wonderful Christmassy memories together. Lots of mums got together for a celebratory meal after our first term of Tuesday Tots. The kids and I were lucky enough to see some real, live reindeer! I spent time with good friends over brunch, lunch, nibbles and dinner (not every day), in baby showers and surprise birthday parties. The Christmas pudding was a success!

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Seeing the reindeer!

The difficult things were: illness one weekend (I’m never ill, and I’m a very bad patient when I am), a family bereavement, and God closing the door on some of our ideas for the future. It is totally gutting whenever we realise that our plans are not in line with God’s, but we trust that He is sovereign, and has closed this door for a reason. I’m thankful that He knows best, and that His ideas surpass ours!

So to 2013. I’m kind of into New Year’s Resolutions. The trouble is, there are too many possible ones to choose from. There are things I want to do less of (eat, faff, Facebook…) and the things I want to do more of (pray, fast, bake) – and, as you’ll have noticed, some of these are contradictory.

Therefore, I’ve decided to consider my general approach to life. Rather than nit-pick with small things which may not matter in eternity, I’ve resolved to live more of a celebratory lifestyle. I hope this will become clearer to me as the year goes on, because I’m not entirely sure that I haven’t said this to myself merely because it sounds grand, rather than because I actually know what it entails. But three things spring to mind:

1) Thinking about (and planning adequate preparation for) how our family celebrates major festivals (Easter, birthdays, Halloween, Christmas…);

2) Approaching smaller ‘events’ (having friends over, going out, attending church) with more generosity and hospitality;

3) Disciplining myself to celebrate Jesus, even (especially) when life is difficult.

There. No doubt that ‘celebration’ will be a regular theme on this blog in 2013. Looking forward to your input!