Only 1 in 4 girls call themselves ‘happy’ – so what are we doing wrong?

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Image credit: Pixabay

I don’t take a paper.

I mean, I barely have time to read my own name on an envelope, so working through all the many articles contained in a broadsheet is a luxury belonging – for the moment, at least – to another existence, one where I’m not permanently covered in PVA glue.

(Also – the Internet. Free news stories at your fingertips.)

But if I did get a paper, it would be The Guardian. (Ooh, I can feel you judging me already! Intellectual middle-class elite, as Stewart Lee would say – and I, of course, would howl with laughter whenever he did because there’s no point denying it – and anyway, as an Oxbridge-educated middle-class person, surely he’s pretty safely in this demographic too?)

ANYWAYS.

I had some glass to wrap, so thought I’d buy me a paper, and thought it should be The Guardian since if I found myself with any spare time I might prefer reading a few of its words over, say, The Yorkshire Herald. (Not knocking the latter – I’m sure it’s an excellent read. It’s just – you know – time.)

It was one of the front page stories, though, that sealed the deal:

“Sharp fall in number of girls who feel happy”(The Guardian, 19.09.18)

You can read the full story here – but, to summarise, a recent study has found that only one in four girls aged 7-21 describe themselves as ‘very happy’.

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I asked my daughter, barely two weeks into this age bracket, whether she felt happy. “What – now?” she replied.

“Now, yes – but more generally too. In life. Do you feel happy?”

“Yes.”

“Honestly?”

“Yes.”

“You’d tell me if you didn’t, right?”

“Look at my colour-change sequin armband, it’s so cool!”

It’s fair to say I don’t have a lot of ‘deep’ conversations with my daughter, whose idea of a disaster is forgetting to bring her unicorn squishy to bed.

Of course I was mildly relieved by her answer, but I’m not resting on my laurels and giving myself a parenting trophy just yet – she still has adolescence and young adulthood to come, and the wheels may yet come unstuck.

Is there anything I can do, as a mum, to prevent this?

To answer, I need to go back a few stages and ask why this story bothers me so much. Why do I care that lots of girls are unhappy?

Primarily because it feels like feminism is failing.

We are trying so hard to ensure girls are able to access what boys can in terms of opportunities, jobs and family life, and yet we’re failing to enable them to access lives which are happy, content, low in stress and enjoyable. Does this seem slightly off-balance to you?

The media thinks people like me, who choose to stay at home for their children’s preschool years, are a failure. The statistics say that I’m a bad example to my daughter, who is less likely to have a well-paid job, and more likely to make the same waywardly irresponsible decision I’ve done, if she ever has kids.

I disagree. Or maybe I agree, but I don’t think it matters. What’s the good in having a well-paid job if you’re not happy? What’s the good in a glittering career if your mental health is in a poor state?

I mean, you can do both, right? It is possible to be simultaneously successful and happy. And having a stay-at-home parent is by no means a guarantee of future happiness. But if such a high number of the 7-21 age group are describing themselves as ‘unhappy’, I’d wager that a decent proportion of the 21-35 age group are struggling too – and that means we need to rethink some of the identity information we’re feeding to our daughters.

I’d love my daughter to do well professionally – and, trust me, I’ll be her biggest cheerleader in this – but at the expense of her happiness? Not a chance. We need to hear more feminists validating girls simply for being who they are, not endlessly needing to achieve more than the generation before them.

The two major reasons girls cited for their unhappiness were exams and social media.

Let’s look at exams first. Please forgive me for the gender generalisations – I know this doesn’t apply to all girls, everywhere – but, on the whole, girls get more anxious, care more what others think, and take what others say more to heart than the boys around them.

As I said – not every girl is like this, but then we’re not talking every girl – we’re talking about 75%, so hear me out.

Teenage girls don’t need to be told how important their exams are – they’re already far too aware. Every time you mention a deadline or an exam, they take it on board and their stress goes up a notch.

Teenage boys, on the other hand, could be repeatedly told how much work they still needed to complete, and the short time frame they had in which to do it – and still they would choose video games over coursework. Every time. They’re just not that fussed – and, at this age at least, they don’t tend to have as much personal motivation as girls.

I’ll repeat my caveat: this is not all teenage boys. But, when I was teaching, this described a majority of the boys in my classes.

And there’s another aspect at play. I wonder whether girls are a little more conditioned to work hard at school, because we’ve grown up being told to believe in ourselves, yet aware of a history which has trodden us down, dismissed our views, and diminished our achievements?

Deep-down, we feel like the underlings (even though we know we’re not), and that gives us a drive – sometimes a desperation – to put our all into school exams.

Again, this isn’t true for every girl – but I think, with hindsight, that this might have been me at school.

Girls usually outperform boys in school exams – but it’s boys who end up with the higher-paid jobs in adulthood. So clearly school exam success is not an indicator of future life success. There are multiple factors, many circumstantial, that propel someone into a well-paid or high-level job.

Most girls won’t be told this, though. Our high level of personal motivation, as well as our ability to enjoy intrinsic rewards, mean that we want to do well for ourselves – not just for the glitzy job waiting for us in our 20s.

The other chief cause of girls’ increasing unhappiness is social media. As the report says, “Relationships are an essential element of contentment and it may be no coincidence that 10 years ago, girls of all ages were socialising more and comparing their lives online less”.

If you want a statistic to go with that, in 2009 69% of girls met up with their friends at each others’ homes, compared with just 21% in 2018.

It’s not rocket science, is it? If you replace real, deep, committed, do-anything-for-each-other friendships with shallow, image-based liaisons through Instagram and Facebook, who are you going to unwind with, offload onto, rant at? Pent-up feelings will just increase your anxiety and stress, and decrease your overall contentment and happiness.

So, the million dollar question – can we do anything about this?

I don’t speak as one experienced in the ways of hormonal daughters, but – never one to withhold my opinion when there’s an opportunity to inflict it upon others – here are some thoughts anyway. Please add yours in the comments.

Encourage a healthy attitude towards exams. Offer perspective. Speak of the future. Allow adult family members and friends to share their stories of school success and failure, and how their lives have turned out positively, especially if school wasn’t always a positive experience.

Encourage hobbies and interests from a young age. It’s no good trying to persuade your 15 year old to take up judo at the start of Year 11. Start young: let your girls (and boys) explore different hobbies, so that they learn how to relax without the requirement of a screen, and also so that they know where their strengths lie, if not in academia.

Have clear boundaries for phone use/screen time. You can find ‘contracts’ all over the Internet intended for parent and son/daughter to agree and sign, regarding phone use. It’s pretty much impossible to control everything your child sees or hears online, but you can at least help them to set healthy boundaries in terms of usage so that they don’t get burned.

Make it easy for your daughter to socialise. Build friendships from birth. Teach the importance of loyalty and kindness, and how we repair friendships after disagreements (particularly important for girls). Have an open home to her friends – let her know she is always welcome to invite them round for actual, meaningful interactions.

Don’t spend so much time instilling your own dreams in your daughter that you squash her ability to develop at her own pace. We need to stop pushing our daughters towards greatness, and start spotting where they shine, where they’re happiest, and encourage them in that. We can do this from birth, and it pays dividends in the long term.

Encourage healthy body image. Let her see your own flawed body. (Sorry, no offence. But it is. And so is mine.) Talk about ‘staying healthy’ rather than ‘losing weight’. Shield her from your own obsession with image, if this is a problem area for you (or talk together about battling it).

Do things as a family. If family habits are forged early on, such as eating together, taking Saturday day trips, or playing board games, this gives your daughter a solid base from which to explore the world. Our ability to relate to others come first from our relationship with our parents, so invest your time wisely. It’s not the occasional ‘deep chats’ which build a parent-child relationship, it’s the regular hanging-out, the silly and the absurd, the laughter and the not-doing-much.

Don’t blame yourself. Exams and social media might be the biggest two factors in unhappy girls – but they’re not the only ones. And you can’t protect your daughter from everything. Neurology, friendships, school environment and many other factors can play a part in a child’s mental well-being. If your daughter is struggling, don’t beat yourself up about it – but do try and get as much professional help as you can. Brushing issues under the carpet is no place to start.

Over to you – is there anything we can do to change this ‘unhappy’ generation?

If you enjoyed this, why not check out:

And don’t forget to sign up to my wonderful Desertmum community, with weekly emails about all things parenting/faith/adoption/exhaustion. It’s ace!

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A Really Incredible Feast – rhyming picture book for kids – review and GIVEAWAY!

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I was so delighted recently to discover this lovely book for young-ish children.

Granted, I don’t have a lot of time to research Christian books for kids, but the ones we have do vary in quality. (Actually, it’s probably less variable than it once was, as I’ve chucked the awful ones!)

Sometimes it feels like our children have all these beautiful books, with lovely illustrations and poetic language – and then the Christian books which sit on their shelves are some kind of second-best, low-budget option.

While I know full well that Christian publishers do have smaller budgets, and a smaller audience, I do think that there are ways of getting round these obstacles to produce beautiful books – and Scripture Union has certainly achieved this with ‘A Really Incredible Feast’.

20180920_210459-978138081When I first opened the envelope, I was impressed by the book’s size, look and feel. It’s hardback – always a great start, as it just feels so weighty and lovely! – and the illustrations are bold and striking. Fabulous!

It’s also incredible value for money, retailing at just 4.99 for a hardback book with six long-ish Jesus stories included. This makes it affordable and accessible for many – and SU should be applauded, again, for creating such a low price point.

Johanna Baldwin’s poems are really lovely, and make for an engaging story. There are six stories from the life of Jesus, including calming the storm, feeding the 5,000, and healing a blind man. I love the way she brings these all to life with fun language, without resorting to ‘extra’ details or digressions which aren’t in the original Bible story.

Bible references are given for each story, in case you want to look it up and read it to your child, but actually Baldwin’s poems don’t really leave out much. Still, it’s worth noting as it can be good to help your child make the connection between a picture book and the Bible.

The blurb states that this book is suitable for 5s-8s. I read it to my brood of 8-6-3-3, and, unsurprisingly, it was my 6 year old who took to it the most.

My *slight* quibble is that there are rather a lot of verses on each page – which makes for great value for money, of course, but wouldn’t perhaps engage a pre-schooler who needed more scene changes for that amount of words. I guess that’s why the age range doesn’t include under 5s.

However, the illustrations – I felt – were more geared to younger children. As such, Mister (8) didn’t engage so much in the book. He listened, and he didn’t dislike it at all, but as he’s at the stage of reading smaller ‘novel’ sized books, with more text and fewer pictures, I can’t see a situation where I would sit down and read this solely to him.

If you know a 5/6 year old, or mature 4 year old, this book would be excellent for them. The hardback cover, great illustrations and fun rhyming language make it a brilliant (and inexpensive gift) for a birthday, Christmas, or baptism/dedication.

And – of course – I’m not ending the review on that note… The author, Johanna Baldwin, has kindly offered a FREE copy to a Desertmum reader!

To enter, simply join my mailing list here – or, if you have already done that, simply leave a comment on this post. That’s it! Simples.

I’ll pick a winner (using my trusty random number generator) this Sunday, 23rd September, at 9pm BST. I’m happy to post internationally, so if you’re not based in the UK, don’t let that stop you!

If you enjoyed this, you may like to read:

* Diary of a (Trying to be Holy) Mum – book review

* The Mermaid Who Couldn’t – book review

* Nits and the sacrifices of parenting

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Five questions to ask a prospective school (when your child is adopted or fostered)

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Blink, and three years will pass in an instant.

I mean, while you know and I know that it’s only actually been three minutes since our gorgeous 14-month-old boys moved into our family, the calendar (damn that thing – is it even a trustworthy article?) suggests it’s actually been nearly three years.

Besides wanting to know whether the Google calendar app is capable of speeding up time, I guess I also need to be thinking about applying for some school places.

How did this happen?

One minute our boys are commando-crawling across the floor – and the next, they’re taking their lives into their hands at every opportunity, causing my heart to skip a beat every time they’re about to jump from something waaaaayyy too high.

One minute they’re babbling and cooing – the next, they’re articulately and precisely telling me Every.Single.Detail of something-or-other, the relevance of which I can’t quite work out.

Fortunately, the school we chose for our eldest two kids is pastorally brilliant, highly experienced with looked-after children, and goes above-and-beyond to meet the needs of the individuals within its care. The only hesitation in putting it as first choice for our boys will be due to impossible laundry piles or lengthy afternoons making slime (you know how it is with kids and slime. You don’t? Oh, err…forget I said anything) – and not because we’re unsure about the place.

I appreciate, though, that the situation isn’t always this easy.

Perhaps it’s your first child who’s preparing to go to school – or perhaps you have older children, but sense that the school they attend will not be the best choice for your adopted or fostered child.

In that case, here are five questions which will start a helpful discussion with any prospective schools. They are not exhaustive, nor might you feel it necessary to ask every single one – but they are a start.

(And, if you want to know, they’re inspired by an article I wrote a few years ago: Five questions to ask a Prospective School.)

1. Who is your designated lead for looked-after children?

a) It’s Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms So-and-So… (The best answer.)

b) Er…we haven’t quite sorted that one out yet. (Don’t write off the school just yet – they may be open to hearing more about it from you.)

c) Designated what? (Leave. Immediately.)

A new piece of legislation from the government this year requires all maintained schools to have a designated person who keeps an eye on the looked-after children (LAC) within their care (this includes children who are adopted and are no longer under Local Authority care).

The likelihood is that this responsibility will fall to someone who is already employed by the school in a pastoral capacity. This, in my opinion, is the ideal. It isn’t really appropriate for a class teacher to have this role, as they’re massively overstretched as it is, and need to be allowed to focus on the children in their class. An exception to this might be if the teacher in question was a member of the senior leadership team, who was given enough time away from their own class to effectively carry out this role.

A note here about academies. They are not maintained schools, and therefore are not obliged to follow government directives such as this one. However, any academy worth its weight is likely to want to implement a similar policy. Our school is an academy, and they’ve never played the “We’re not maintained” card to evade responsibility when it comes to raising the aspirations of all their children.

So, if you’re looking around an academy, make sure they’ve at least thought this one through!

2. How is your Pupil Premium money spent?

a) We put it towards extra staff in classrooms/use it for intervention groups/spend it on training specific to the needs of vulnerable children. (Great answer. No prizes for guessing what our school spend it on.)

b) We spend it on snazzy computers and equipment which will give your child more ways to engage within school. (Hmmm…resources could be a good spend, but you need to probe a little further.)

c) We give it straight back to the parents so that they can buy the correct uniform for their children. (Uh-oh.)

Newsflash: all LAC receive Pupil Premium (PP) – this essentially means that the school receives an extra wadge of cash each year to help qualifying children to overcome their disadvantages and have an excellent education.

Second newsflash: schools are not required to give this money to you, or to spend it directly on your child!

I’ve actually read some threads in online adoption forums which suggest that this is the case!

But if you were managing the budget of a small-medium company, and you received additional funding – would you spend it on things which would only last a year? Or things which would last a few years? Or on people who would have a greater long-term impact?

I realise that, as parents, a little extra cash towards uniform and equipment would be welcome, but hear me on this one: it will not improve your child’s education. UK parents all receive child benefit – and some of us receive tax credits and/or adoption allowance – which is supposed to go towards these items, so please allow your school to spend its PP on things which will have the greatest educational impact on your child.

I’m grateful that our school uses its PP, amongst other things, to pay a full-time pastoral member of staff, to ensure that each class has a teaching assistant (in addition to 1:1 support for kids with SEN), and that regular small group interventions take place for children who are struggling academically.

They also make sure they’re up-to-date with training, especially on issues of safeguarding, pastoral care, and attachment.

I know that these things will have a big impact on my boys – and other children like them in the school – and am delighted that they’re already in place.

One thing to be aware of, though: while schools are entitled to use PP money as they think best, they’re also required to produce data to prove that they’re raising the attainment of the kids who attract this funding. AND, what’s even better, is that they’re required to make this information available on their websites.

So even before you look round those schools, make sure you’ve found this information online! It’ll arm you with lots of useful info for when you visit.

3) Have your staff done any training on attachment and/or trauma?

a) Yes, we sent our deputy head and pastoral lead on some training a year ago. (Brilliant!)

b) Yes we did but I can’t remember when it was – four, five years ago? (Not necessarily a terrible school – remember just how much training teachers need in all sorts of different things – but definitely time for a booster!)

c) What’s attachment? (Invite them round when your adopted child is having a half-hour paddy, hitting and biting you because his favourite book doesn’t have enough pages. Then they’ll know.)

With all of these questions, I want to issue a word of caution: no school is perfect.

There is so much for teachers to do, so much for school leaders to do, so much for governors to do, that it is literally impossible to focus on all of the things, all of the time.

Please don’t write off a school just because their attachment training is out of date (or they haven’t done any). They haven’t been lazy, or uncaring – they’ve likely been getting training in other areas. The key thing is their attitude once you mention it. Do they seem keen? Are they taking you seriously?

This leads me nicely onto the next question…

4. What are the areas you’re trying to develop right now?

a) We’re looking at our behaviour policy, raising the profile of Science within school, and tightening up our SEN interventions. (I want this school!)

b) Er… we’re trying to raise the attainment of all our pupils. (GET ME SOME DETAILS! I’M ABOUT TO ENTRUST MY MOST PRECIOUS POSESSSION TO YOU!)

c) None. We’re doing pretty well. (Not when Ofsted turn up, you won’t be.)

Ofsted like to see that schools know where their weaknesses are, and are taking steps to improve them. You should be interested in this too.

You want to know that the school your child might attend has a great attitude to learning – and that’s not just pupil learning, but staff learning. If they’re not actively trying to improve specific areas (and able to tell you them at the drop of a hat), then what exactly are they doing?

Remember: the perfect school doesn’t exist! Instead, look for one which is ‘on the up’.

5. How do you deal with behaviour in the classroom?

a) We use a system of natural consequences, helping children to relate their action with its consequences, and utilise restorative practice techniques to encourage children to think through their actions. (WOW. Literally. Does a school like this actually exist??)

b) We use a traffic lights system of red, yellow and green to reward behaviour and help children to see when their behaviour is less than acceptable. (There are many benefits to this approach, but the visual/shaming nature of it won’t always be suitable for looked-after children who already carry around a heck of a lot of guilt.)

c) We stand the child in the corner of the classroom with a Dunce hat. (Obviously not. Soooo obviously not – but cut me a bit of slack here, OK? It’s number 5 and I’m running out of steam.)

Again, a school doesn’t need to be perfect, but what you’re after here is some kind of guarantee that they work with their children on improving behaviour. All children – but looked-after children especially – will get much more out of an approach which helps them to self-regulate their behaviour and make better decisions in the future.

***

These questions aren’t an exam! Please don’t disregard schools which don’t score highly on each question. All good schools are in a process of improving – you’re simply trying to find out which ones will be flexible to the needs of your child (and are aware that your child will have needs specific to his/her looked-after background).

Good luck as you look!

If you enjoyed this, you may like:

And for weekly doses of all things parenting/family/adoption/faith/chocolate, I’d love you to join the Desertmum community! I’ll even send you Ten Survival Tips for Newly Adoptive Parents as a thank-you.

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Identity and the Church – Can a church be inclusive without compromise?

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Image credit: Pixabay

It’s no secret that one of the big debates in the Church today is how to pastorally respond to those of varying sexual orientations.

Churches the world over range from a permissive, arms-open approach to a more closed, even angry, approach. And any talk of trying to ‘strike a balance’ is futile, as there are as many opinions on this subject as there are Christians, with everyone holding a different idea of what that ‘balance’ would entail.

So – and I’m convinced of this – we need to find different solutions to working and worshiping together peacefully and lovingly. Solutions which embrace the diversity of opinion found within the Church and use it to strengthen our mission, not divide it.

It’s why I loved reading Sexuality, Faith and the Art of Conversation earlier this year. And it’s why I was thrilled to attend Living Out’s Identity conference in London this June.

I’ve already blogged a few thoughts reflecting on this conference, firstly how culture shapes our identity (without us even realising), and secondly how affected I was by the testimony of four celibate, gay Christians. Do have a read if you haven’t already.

This is the third and final reflection, and it concerns our approach as churches.

Kathy Keller spoke wonderfully in the afternoon on the more practical issue of how we make our churches welcoming and inclusive, while holding to traditional Bible teaching about sex being for (heterosexual) marriage.

This will jar for those who don’t read the Bible this way, but one thing I found particularly strong was Kathy’s assertion that actually homosexual ‘sin’ is a lot less common/frequent than heterosexual ‘sin’ – purely by nature of there being more heterosexual than homosexual people in the world. Of course this is obvious really, isn’t it? Only I’d never thought of it this way.

In other words, where do our churches stand on teaching about sex within marriage generally? How do we address those who are living together outside marriage, those who have had affairs, those who are in the process of a divorce, those who are considering remarriage?

There are no easy answers, of course, to any of this – but the point is: sexual sin needs to be addressed as a whole. Singling out any one group of individuals is not helpful, and it certainly isn’t Biblical.

Living Out had produced a church inclusivity audit for the day, which I found incredibly helpful, not to mention challenging. If we really ask these questions of ourselves and our churches, where do we stand? I know we fall down in a number of areas.

For example:

“Church family members instinctively share meals, homes, holidays, festivals, money, children with others from different backgrounds and life situations to them.”

I’m not so sure that our church, diverse and welcoming as it is, really models this kind of sharing with those of different backgrounds. The thinking here is that if a church develops this kind of culture then it will make life easier for a person who has chosen, for whatever reason, to live a celibate lifestyle, as they will automatically feel included, and experience life-giving relationships within their church family.

Another example:

“All in your church know that we all experience sexual brokenness and all are being encouraged to confess their own sexual sins.”

I just don’t think that we talk about sex very much or very well! Are we encouraged to think about past sexual behaviour, and whether it was God-honouring? We might be in committed marital relationships, but have we ever asked God to forgive us for what we did before that, or for mixed motives even now?

Again, this general focus on sexual sin (rather than homosexual sin) is helpful, I think, as it sets high and challenging expectations for all of us.

You can download the full audit here and I really recommend taking a look – there are some stonking statements on there. In addition, there’s a great video of Ed Shaw (a same-sex attracted church leader) explaining at the conference how he went through this audit with his church leadership team.

There were some great books recommended during the conference which I wanted to mention here, as well as some of my own favourites:

Walking with Gay Friends – I found this incredibly helpful a few years ago in helping me think through this issue. The author is a Christian and a lesbian.

Space at the Table: Conversations between an Evangelical Theologian and His Gay Son – this is on my to-read list, and looks amazing! Check out the trailer video here: it might make you cry!

The Gospel comes with a House Key – Rosaria Butterfield’s story of converting to Christianity as a gay, feminist academic is one I want to read – this is a follow-on book, where she describes the kind of radical hospitality Christians are called to give.

Mere Sexuality: rediscovering the Christian vision of sexuality

The plausibility problem – written by Ed Shaw, featured in the church audit video.

Gay girl, good God – I spotted this on Twitter, and it looks fascinating – the story of Jackie Hill Perry’s coming to faith.

Undivided – Vicky Beeching’s story, from a different perspective, has also been on my to-read list since it was released, and I know many of you have already read it.

Sexuality, Faith and the Art of Conversation – as mentioned. Read my review here!

Happy reading!

A note on my affiliate links: this post contains them! You know the drill: click through, make a purchase, and I earn a small amount of commission.

However, I realise that many of you will Google the book titles, just to check whether there’s a cheaper price. I get it – I do that too. I always try to put the cheapest price I can find right here in the blog post, but that’s not always possible (prices change all the time, I’m UK based so some things will be cheaper/dearer in other countries, and I have an aversion to Amazon…). So by all means, go check the cheaper price – but if you find that it’s the same as what I’ve recommended, do come back here and click on my links pretty please. It’s how I keep the blog free! Thank you 🙂

 

 

Identity and Sexuality – is it possible to be celibate and fulfilled?

is it possible to be celibate and fulfilled_ (2).pngOK, so huge apologies for dropping the ball on this one. I attended Living Out’s Identity conference with Tim and Kathy Keller more than two months ago, wrote my first reflection back in July, then the summer happened and I completely lost track.

So, if you need a moment to remind yourself what the conference was about, or what my first reflection was, click here.

Also, rather excitingly, Living Out have now generously made all the talks available here so you can go straight to the horse’s mouth!

Today I wanted to tell you a little about the powerful testimonies we heard throughout the day (and there’ll be a third post coming soon, to round off this trilogy, where I’ll share some reflections on Kathy’s talk, as well as some book recommendations).

When I see the issue of sexuality debated amongst Christians and those of other faiths/no faith, there seems to be an assumption that sexual fulfilment is a fundamental human right, something impossible to live without.

I have to be careful here, knowing that I’m in a marital relationship and therefore have access to this kind of fulfilment – it’s all very well for me to say that it isn’t the be-all-and-end-all – but if I couldn’t have it, would I feel the same?

Instead, I want to turn the spotlight on those who do live a celibate lifestyle, and who face these battles every day.

During the conference, four people in this situation shared their stories, and I was struck by just how joyful and fulfilled they came across! Anne’s situation was particularly inspiring – she lives with a friend, and the two of them have an open, hospitable home, sharing time, meals and space with others who need it.

Whatever the many battles she faces, Anne obviously receives so much love and support from the many close friendships she has – she’s not lonely or isolated, in fact her life seems quite the opposite: full of people and fun, in a way that marriage doesn’t always allow.

Then there was Jeanette, older than the others who shared their stories – maybe in her 50s/60s – so she knows about stamina when it comes to celibacy. But again, her life seems very fulfilling. She’s a writer and speaker, and has close Christian friendships at her church.

A young guy whose name I can’t recall is about to start training for ordination. He kicked off the day with a challenge that knocked me for six (excuse the paraphrase): “The church needs to stop talking about sacrificial living for gay Christians, and start talking about the sacrificial living required of all of us.”

In other words, he is able to see his sacrifice of sexual fulfilment as part of a wider discipleship narrative, part of the cross he has to bear (Matthew 16:24), and acknowledges that all of us, if we are trying to listen to God, will be called to make decisions which are costly.

When I see, often on social media, people advocating for Christians to be able to act upon their sexual desires, the rhetoric is often tense, bitter, forceful and arrogant. (Note, it’s not often gay Christians themselves who converse like this, but straight Christians speaking on their behalf!)

I guess on the one hand this is unsurprising. After all, if you feel strongly that a particular community has been mistreated for a number of years, you’re likely going to express that passionately, in order to tip the balance back again.

But what struck me from the testimonies shared at this conference was the kindness, gentleness, compassion and downright joy of all four speakers! None of them had any arrogance whatsoever. None of them were arguing that all should believe or act as they do. They simply shared their stories of faith and God’s calling with a huge amount of grace and good humour.

Another important aspect of all four speakers was that they appeared totally comfortable with their sexuality. There was no sinister talk of conversion therapy or any other potentially dodgy practices. All of them confidently identified as gay – and yet they were able to feel comfortable without practising their sexuality.

This gave me much food for thought as to what it means to be a sexual being, and to what extent our sexuality needs to be acted upon.

Whether we agree with the stance of these celibate gay Christians or not, it’s impossible to argue with their stories, their lives.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that if we’re happy to welcome gay people in our churches who are practising their sexuality, then we also need to make space for those who have chosen a celibate lifestyle. The world will mock them – so our churches need to be a place where such brothers and sisters and loved, supported and nurtured.

If you follow this link, you can hear their stories for yourself. I hope you enjoy them.

And don’t forget my third and final reflection here!

You may also be interested in:

And for exclusive emails, news, articles and giveaways, don’t forget to join the Desertmum community by signing up to the mailing list!

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The Father’s Kiss – review and giveaway!

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No father is perfect, of course, but psychologists will tell you the benefits of growing up with a stable father-figure – someone who loves you unconditionally, is proud of your achievements, and helps to nurture you into a well-rounded, empathetic adult.

Sadly, many people haven’t had this experience. Their father was absent, neglectful, sharp-tempered, condemnatory, or abusive.

Besides the ‘obvious’ disadvantages suffered by those growing up with this kind of father (anxiety, perfectionism, low self-esteem, and so on), any lack of fatherly nurturing will have implications on how someone can relate to God as their Father.

‘God loves you’. It’s so trite, isn’t it? So obvious, in a way. And yet do we really believe it, when we haven’t seen a human example of unconditional fatherly love?

Even when we have had a positive experience with our father – when do we ever really plumb the depths of God’s affection, outlined for us in the Bible? Do we actually believe that He not only loves us, but that spending time with us brings Him – the creator of the universe – such joy?

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I’m so excited that, today, The Father’s Kiss is released – a book which, I’m certain, will bring healing and revelation to so many Christians who struggle to believe just how much and how freely God loves them.

Tracy Williamson’s story is powerful. As a young child, she suffered an illness which affected her hearing and sight. Her birth dad died when she was very young, and her step dad abused her verbally and sexually. You can read a fuller account in this brilliant interview she did for Claire Musters.

She entered adulthood insecure, with little self-worth, but became a Christian in her first year of college.

However, the journey didn’t end there. Tracy’s whole life has been a journey of healing from past hurts, learning to forgive her abuser, and allowing her thinking to be changed when it comes to her Father God – the God who doesn’t abuse her, the God who doesn’t see her as a mistake.

Why not take a couple of minutes to watch Tracy’s video, which shares her heart for the book?

I so appreciated Tracy’s honest, vulnerable writing, and believe it has the power to help so many others on their journey of reshaping their thoughts about who their Father God really is.

Although I’m blessed with an amazing Dad, as I was reading this book my thoughts were so often with my younger two boys, and how they might cope as they get older with not knowing who their birth Dad was (I wrote about that here, ‘Can you imagine having no father?’).

And for me, too, the book was challenging. Although I understand that God loves me, I often think of it as a begrudging kind of love – a bit like me when I’m tired and grumpy with my kids. I do love them – but sometimes I wish they’d just leave me alone for a few minutes, or let me get on with something.

It’s so tempting to think of God like this, but Tracy helped to reshape my thinking by showing, very clearly, from the Bible, that God is not a grumpy or begrudging kind of God! He loves to spend time with us – all the time! He’d never prefer to be on His phone, or spend a quiet few minutes cooking away from us all, or any of the other things I crave as an imperfect parent.

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Tracy and her book!

Now I like my Christian non-fiction books to be structured, with several clear and easy-to-follow points that I can mull over, remember and act upon. This book is not like that, and I have to say it took me a while to adapt to the style.

But then again, with such a deep and abstract topic such as ‘God’s love’, I’m not sure how this book could have been written in simple bullet-points all beginning with the same letter! It’s not like someone can teach you the A-Z of absorbing God’s love, can they?

Instead, Tracy effortlessly combines Bible passages, teaching, personal stories, poems, songs, prophetic pictures, and opportunities to ‘pause and reflect’, in order to draw us further into the reality of God’s love. It’s not a book to be rushed through, but one to mull over slowly and gradually.

The prophetic insights, in particular, I found very powerful. Tracy has a real gift in this area (her ‘day job’ is travelling the country with MBM Ministries, leading retreats and conferences with the singer/songwriter Marilyn Baker), and I’ve never read a book which is full of so many “As I’m writing this, I feel God saying…” moments. Truly spine-tingling and awesome!

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The Father’s Kiss is a beautiful book, full of hope and encouragement, and I really hope that you’re convinced to go and order a copy right now for yourself or someone you know would be blessed by it!

But – as always – don’t order just yet, as Authentic have kindly given me a copy of The Father’s Kiss to give away to a lucky reader! To enter – as always – simply join my mailing list (you can always unsubscribe later if I start to ramble on) – or, if you’re already on it, leave a lovely comment here to encourage Tracy!

The giveaway is now closed. Thanks to everyone who entered, and well done to Kerry who won!

Affiliate links are used in this email, meaning I earn a small commission on any purchase made through this blog, at no extra cost to you. Tracy kindly sent me a free copy of The Father’s Kiss to review for this blog but, as always, you have my guarantee that I would never publish a review of anything I didn’t genuinely like.

Interested in my other reviews? I’ve read some stonking books this year!

Holidays, books and decluttering (What I’m into – August 2018)

August is the Month of Flop for me.

In July I’m all motivated for how this summer will actually be heaps more productive than last year’s – but then August comes and goes, and basically we’ve had a lot of fun, broken up a lot of family arguments, found we’ve rarely had a moment to sit down (yet feel strangely refreshed), and are very very glad that the new term is just around the corner.

So forgive me if I don’t fill all the usual categories this month – we’ve been too busy just doing August.

Books

I really enjoyed The Gardener’s Daughter – a brilliant YA mystery by K.A. Hitchins. You can read my review here, so I won’t say any more about it. But congrats to Jenni who won the giveaway!

I’m half-way through The Father’s Kiss (Tracy Williamson), which comes out this Friday, but I’ve been fortunate to get an advance copy as part of Tracy’s launch group, so I’ll be sharing my honest thoughts with you once I’m finished.

So far, though, I’m really enjoying the mix of theology, personal testimony, and prophetic insights. Much food for thought, and I’m excited about the many people who could start to be healed from past wounds as they read and absorb this book’s truths.

Have I intrigued you?! Look out for the giveaway, later this month!

My articles

Image credit: Pixabay

Curious to discover more about my first Hello Fresh experience? Thought you would be. Take a nosey at my comments on Eating, Cooking and Writing for the More than Writers blog.

Home for Good published the first of two articles I’d written on Suffering and Adoption – this one, Looking Suffering in the Eye. Part two to follow soon!

And, as already mentioned, I reviewed The Gardener’s Daughter right here on the blog!

IRL (In Real Life, for the uninitiated. Yeah, I know I’m cool.)

The Horniman Museum
  • Two lovely holidays – one to London (where we didn’t actually step foot in central London once but still had an amazing time!) – and one to the South Coast. Great weather we’ve been having, eh? Even when it’s cooled down, it’s still been about 59 times as good as most British summers.
  • One week of sick bug – Monkey and Meerkat both struck down 😦 Fortunately, this was the last week of the hols, when we were all due a bit of down time anyway!
  • Two lots of family and one lot of friends to stay – the joy of becoming other people’s Holidays!
  • Week 1 of a decluttering plan complete – I hope to blog about this in the future, because I absolutely love it! I received it as part of the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle back in April, and it’s an absolute godsend! A very easy to follow 20-week plan for decluttering your whole house – and it ACTUALLY SEEMS TO WORK.

The Future

August may not have held much in the way of trying new books, food, music or plays – but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, partly about this blog and my writing in general. Since this ‘What I’m Into’ has been shorter than most, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on what I’ve come up with for the next few months:

  • Rather than attempting two blog posts a week, I’m aiming for one blog post, plus one email (sent on a Friday evening). I’d like to stay in touch with you better!
  • If you don’t receive these emails, please sign up here! It’s not the same as following the blog (where you get an email whenever I publish something new.) These emails are personally written by me, and contain links to other things I’ve written, not just on this blog. When the time comes, it will also be one of the ways I publicise my books, and offer freebies/giveaways/competitions – so please sign up!
  • I’m going to continue to work on my Pinterest account, so please connect with me there if you’re on Pinterest too! If you’re able to share the odd article of mine, I’d be so grateful.
  • Now’s the time for me to investigate ‘proper’ websites for this blog – don’t worry, you won’t be losing Desertmum, but at some point we’ll be moving to a more professional looking site, so that I’m all set up for professional writing.
  • I have two books (one for adults, one for children) in the pipeline, and really hope to be able to share the details with you before too long. Both are finished, but one in particular needs a bit of a push with the publisher, and this term I intend to give it just that!
  • There’ll be a lot of book giveaways this term! I’m just reading SOOOO many good books right now, and excited to be working with a variety of publishers who are keen to offer me books to give to you lovely lot 🙂 The best way of catching them all is to sign up for my mailing list – so what are you waiting for?!

Affiliate disclaimer: affiliate links are used in this post. Click through, like what you see, make a purchase – and I receive a few pence at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

Linking up with Leigh Kramer’s marvellous What I’m Into series! Give her blog a whirl…last month I discovered that GBBO is being shown in the States, and that Leigh is a huge fan!