Posted in family, identity, jesus, me, parenting

truly safe? (what we want for our kids: financial security)

My first post in this series, on wanting a great career for our kids, threw up a whole load of complex ideas and thoughts – so much so that I’ve broken them down into three main areas. The last post was on status, the next will be on gender roles – and, right now, I’m looking at financial security.

I think probably many of us are happy to admit we want ‘financial security’ for our children as they fly the nest and become independent – but when we stop and question what our definition of ‘security’ actually is, we might find ourselves becoming unstuck.

For example, we may think of things like: having a job which pays the bills, being able to buy a house, paying into a decent pension scheme or having a savings account. But are these things actually ‘secure’? The financial crash of 2008 is not so far into our history that we should forget that these things can and do go wrong. Financial ‘security’ in this sense can never be 100% secure.

However, when Jesus said “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19), I’m not sure it was so much a comment on how insecure these treasures are, but on how secure Kingdom treasure is. He goes on to talk about wordly treasures being destroyed by moths and rust, or stolen by thieves. Well, in this age of online banking and increasing numbers of cashless payments, the first two dangers aren’t so relevant, and the third is certainly a lot harder than it was in Biblical times – but the point here is that however secure we make our worldly treasures, however advanced our technology and alarm systems and police presence – still Kingdom treasure is way more secure. Why? Because it lives with God, untouched by any of the threats that could endanger earthly treasure.

So, if not placing our security in finances, then in what? I take “treasures in heaven” to mean a variety of different things, all with the common strand of being an ‘investment’ in our relationship with God. It could be an ongoing prayer relationship, a moment of revelation through Scripture, a word or a prophecy over our lives, a deepening of our walk with God, a powerful worship experience, a fresh idea for enabling God’s blessing to be poured out in a community, the unity of a group of Christians working together for good, the delight of seeing a friend come to Christ for the first time, or draw closer to Christ, the joy of addictions being broken, debts paid off, abusive relationships come to an end, the triumph of good over evil…and I could go on. Any investment in our relationship with God is safe forever – 100% safe, 100% secure.

So onto our children…do we really want them to have ‘financial security’? I certainly want mine to have security, but it seems that this probably doesn’t come from finances. Indeed, it seems that in trying to aspire to the wrong sort of security  for our children, we may actually expose them to more danger. Whilst we try to protect our children from financial failure, we may be opening them up to temptations and distractions which may draw them away from Jesus. Is that what we want for our kids? Or do we want them to know and enjoy a life thrown onto God the Rock, knowing His security and trusting in His provision?

At this point, the financially prudent amongst you will be saying, “Yeah, yeah, that’s all very well – but how does faith pay the bills?” Well, I could tell you about our friend who worked two years for our church unpaid. It was tough – but God sustained him through free accommodation and the occasional financial gift from others. I think this friend would tell you that one of the things God was crafting in him during this time was a simpler, more sacrificial lifestyle, and a greater awareness of the value of material things, having grown up in a fairly affluent home. I could tell you about my friends who raise their child on one less-than-full-time salary – but still make ends meet. Their story is one of rejecting what the world tells them their child ‘needs’. I could tell you about my friends who, due to great generosity throughout their adult life, entered their 70s in a rented property, unable to buy their own home for all they’d given to others. God provided them a fantastic home with low rent, guaranteed till they go to be with Jesus. Their story is that when you seek God’s kingdom first, ‘all these things will be given to you as well’.

Do you see? When Jesus asks us to invest in heavenly treasures, He doesn’t just abandon us to it, but comes good on His promise to provide everything we need. Perhaps the reason we don’t teach this to our children is because we’re not quite sure we believe it ourselves.

I hope you know of stories like this in your own life, or the lives of your friends. If not, perhaps you need to make a few new friends! In any case, as I raise my kids, I know I need to be very careful about what sort of ‘security’ my lifestyle promotes. Here are some ideas to avoid this:

  1. Read the gospels. OK, so I’ve said this before. But there’s no counter-attack to the values of our society than Jesus’ radical lifestyle and claims. As we get to know better the Jesus who had nothing, yet wanted for nothing, and as we read about the topsy-turvy generosity of the Kingdom (a young boy giving his packed lunch for a crowd of thousands, a widow giving her last remaining coins), we can’t help but be transformed into Kingdom-investers.
  2. Practise these values with your kids. Consider carefully your material purchases for them. Kingdom kids will not have everything their friends have. Model this yourself, and nurture it in your children. My kids see me wearing second-hand clothes, and know that there’s no shame in preloved!
  3. Tell, and re-tell, the stories of God’s generosity in your life – to your kids as well as to yourself.
  4. Hang around with others who have faith-filled stories to share. Let your kids see that Jesus is 100% secure, and totally unshakeable. He will not succumb to a financial crash!
  5. Practise generosity. Kids are SO good at this – they just can’t see any reason why they wouldn’t give all their money away to kids who need it! (They don’t have to pay the bills – this probably has something to do with it!) Research charities and missions around the world. Watch the news with your kids, so they can see true suffering. If opportunities arise, take them to places where they will experience those who are suffering, first-hand. I was shaped by such trips in my teens.

Friends, we do this together. I fall into the trap of wanting salaries, savings and pensions as much as the next person. These things are not sinful in themselves – of course they are often the main way God provides for us – but they’re not what we prioritise. I’ll say it again, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). We don’t need to worry – He has it all in hand.

Posted in bible reading, book review, easter, family, jesus, parenting

follow me – a review and a giveaway!

Amy Robinson is a writer and storyteller. It’s a sad irony that the years when Amy and I lived in the same city never overlapped with the years of me being a parent, as I think our family would have loved her storytelling performances.

Follow Me

The next best thing to being able to watch Amy is surely to immerse ourselves in her book Follow Me! which is a creative family devotional for Lent. (I say ‘immerse’, but let’s get this out of the way from the start: our family has recently exploded from four to six, and the only things in which we’re immersing ourselves just right now are toys, shoes, poo and melodrama. Anything else – this wonderful resource included – merely gets a toe-dip.

HOWEVER.

That doesn’t stop me from raving about Follow Me! Family Bible times are such a tough one to navigate, with different ages, interests and timetables to contend with. But here is a resource which accommodates all that. For example, some of the activities were too old for my under 6s – but that simply means I can continue to use the resource for the next few years. And some of the activities needed a bit of preparation or forethought – but then again this offered flexibility, giving us license to extend, or cut short, as suited us. I love how the book is so structured, and yet offers so many open possibilities.

This is how Follow Me! works. It starts Ash Wednesday (that’s tomorrow – eek! This blog was meant to be published a week ago!), and follows a different Bible story each week throughout Lent. Each day there is an activity based on that Bible story – perhaps a creative retelling of the story, some history and context, a poem, questions for ‘wondering’, a craft or a prayer. Every Sunday (which falls on day 5 as the weeks begin on Wednesdays), there’s a ‘community day’ which encourages your kids to do something simple with others. This is designed to be done within a church community, so is perfect if you attend church on a Sunday!

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I just love the spontaneity this book initiates. This is the fishermen’s boat on Lake Galilee. My kids chose their own props to add to Amy’s beautiful words.

You can mix and match the activities as much as you like, perhaps just picking up the resource once a week, or every day if you’re keen, or just whenever you all manage to come together. Please don’t think it’s too late to order a copy! (Or attempt to win one, see below.) This resource is SO flexible you can use it at any time during Lent – and, of course, unlike Creme Eggs, it will keep for next year, and the year after, and the year after!

I find Lent a long time in which to engage my children’s interests in the run-up to Easter. Usually we do Shrove Tuesday, and then forget about anything Easter-related until Palm Sunday. I like the fact that this resource manages to sustain the interest with structured Bible readings leading up to Easter. Not that we’re there yet, but I can imagine my kids sticking with this resource for the next few weeks because it’s something different and active, and there’s plenty of variety.

Follow Me! is simply a family-friendly version of what us adults appreciate through Lent: the opportunity to pause, consider Jesus’ life and ministry, and ponder what it means for own lives. You can get your hands on a copy here but as I haven’t done a giveaway for a while, I’ll be sending a free copy to a commenter chosen at random this Saturday. So: get commenting below for your chance to win!

Posted in birthdays, celebration, change, identity, jesus, me, parenting

she turned 4: on working out what it means to mother a daughter

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It’s become a tradition on this blog to write a little tribute post to my children around the time of their birthdays. It feels such a big deal, somehow, when they’re growing so fast, to celebrate each year with gratitude and amazement at the people they’re becoming. Perhaps, when they’re 18, I’ll give them a little book of all their blog posts, so they can see what they were like, or how I perceived them, at each age.

(It’s also becoming tradition that these birthday blogs mark the return of blogging after an inevitably silent summer. I’m sorry. What can I say? I tried to write, I drafted a few bits and pieces, but in all honesty we were having non-stop summer fun and loveliness, and there was barely enough time to get to the computer, let alone publish something I was proud of. Sorry.)

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Anyway, the girl TURNED FOUR. You read that right. In the blink of an eye – or so it seems – the scrunched-up, dark-haired, screaming newborn has become a confident, intelligent, creative individual. She’s brilliant company, and she drives me up the wall. She’s eccentric and quirky (and sometimes just WEIRD), yet also sensible, thoughtful and kind. She’s all of these things. And in this last year, when her older brother has been at school, and she and I have spent an awful lot more time together, there have been two big questions on my mind. What kind of mother-daughter relationship do I want to build? And how do I raise her to be a strong, secure, content and self-assured woman of God?

The best mother-daughter relationships I know stem from a genuine interest in each other, and hence a delight in spending time together, which is sustained into adulthood. And it doesn’t start at a particular age – in fact, the older a child gets, the harder it is to ‘begin’ this closeness. So, in my relationship with Missy (not her real name, for blog newcomers!) I need to be genuinely interested in all the things that matter to her. At the moment, playing shops or dolls or dressing up as Elsa may seem pretty superficial, but I know that if I ignore her attempts at building a relationship with me now, she’ll stop sharing her life so openly in the future, and I’ll regret it forever. Recently, I’ve tried to make a conscious effort to be more active in our time together – to put my phone in a different room so I’m free from distractions; to save the housework for later; to follow her ideas for how we spend our days. In short: to send the message, loud and clear, that I am here for her, rooting for her, delighted in her.

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And I’ve noticed so much about her: her attention to the teeniest detail (in particular when it comes to buggies – she’s obsessed with all things doll-related, but especially double buggies!); her contentment to just mooch around the house, have a read, help with (her choice of) jobs; the extent of her fascination with babies; the closeness of her relationship with her brother; her fearlessness; her love of singing and music; her growing independence when it comes to being creative, and making things for others. I love spending time with this crazy girl – and since we only have another year before she abandons me for school, I intend to spend it wisely.

The second question I have no easy answers to. All around me I see women struck down with various forms of low self-esteem and confidence. It manifests itself in all sorts of ways: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders, alcoholism, workaholism, consumerism/materialism, unhealthy body image and/or over-dependence on beauty products/regimes. What is it about us girls that we struggle to accept who God made us to be? If I’m honest, it makes me fearful for Missy’s future – how will she cope with growing up female, with womanhood, with resisting the unhelpful pressures all around her?

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The simple answer is that I can’t do much about this. My own parenting, much as it’s usually well-considered and thoughtful, is deeply flawed. My own insecurities peep through regularly, as do the parts of my character I would rather my children never saw. Missy will grow up as much wounded by my sin as by her own. There is no way out.

But there is prayer and there is a God who made her and loves her and wants her to blossom into the person He created her to be, fully rooted in Christ, and able to use her unique giftings for his purposes. So, as we celebrate four years of having our beautiful Missy in our lives, I re-dedicate her to her loving Father, trusting that He will hold her tight, and praying for her relationship with Him to flourish as our mother-daughter relationship has done this year.

Posted in adoption, change, jesus, me, parenting

adoption: accepting uncertainty

It is a phrase that my husband and I are becoming all too familiar with. “This child requires a family who can accept the uncertainties surrounding his future.” Any child who has been placed for adoption has an uncertain future – and this is truer the younger they are.

Of course, none of us know what the future brings for ourselves or our children, adopted or not. Either of my birth children could be diagnosed with a terminal illness next week, or be hit by a car, or face eating disorders or depression in their teens.

But there are also a lot of knowns. For example, I know the paternity of my birth children – and, therefore, I know family medical history. I know that we don’t have a history of heart disease, for example. I also know the ethnicity of our children – and therefore I know roughly how they will look as they grow up – and I know that they’ve never been abused or neglected. I know that, having only ever experienced love and security, my birth children’s chances of making it to adulthood as well-adjusted, fully-functioning adults are fairly high.

These are just some of the things we may not know about a child or children who we eventually adopt. Those who hope that adoption will eradicate all the pain and hurt endured by a child prior to being placed in care are sadly mistaken. Adopted children will always bear the scars of a rough start in life, even if they were too young to remember. Human brains do more developing in the first year of life than in any other – in second place is the second year of life, and in third place is (you guessed it) the third year of life. So if even a month or two of the first three years of life are screwed, then you can appreciate the damage this does. And this is without contemplating the experience in utero. Perhaps a child inhaled tobacco, or suffered the effects of alcohol or drugs that mum took in pregnancy. Perhaps they were injured because mum was being physically abused when pregnant. They would doubtless have sensed some of the stress experienced by mum and her environment too. Even being placed in care – undoubtedly a good thing, removing a child from an environment of neglect, abuse or both – takes its toll, as children then experience loss, instability, a change in their primary care-giver, new adults to respond to, new attachments to be made, and countless other effects, all of them far too traumatic for a small child to be expected to cope with.

An adopted child’s ‘uncertainties’, therefore, do not just pertain to health, which alone will hold many question marks (especially for a very young child about whom little can be diagnosed), but also emotions and mental stability. Can you imagine approaching adolescence – a challenging time for even the most stable youngster – unsure of your own identity? Unsure of who you are, where you came from, perhaps questioning what’s wrong with you, that your birth parents couldn’t cope with raising you? Or maybe – worse – you might be only too aware of who your birth parents were – and, therefore, scared stiff of turning into your violent dad or alcoholic mum.

Adoption is not a solution to ‘fix’ a broken child. It is a lifelong commitment to lovingly parent him or her through good and bad, nurture them through the pain of the past, and face the uncertainties of the future together.

So – back to the original challenge. Can we ‘accept uncertainty’, in all the bleak ways we might define that phrase? Are we rooting for this child, not just this year but in five, ten and twenty years’ time? Can we be advocates for this child when he’s lagging behind his peers at school, when he’s undergoing a serious operation, when he’s sitting in police custody in his teens?

Once again, I find myself grateful that we don’t go through this process alone. God does not abandon us to the dark cloud of hopelessness. Instead, he offers great hope and certainty – not in who we are, and how our lives might end up – but in who He is – the one, true, dependable, unchangeable Rock. With us through the good and the bad. Advocating for us, and our children, in every situation.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2)

If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:15-17)

Posted in celebration, family, jesus, marriage

13 today! happy birthday, breadmaker

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This is our breadmaker, and it is 13 years old today. Through four different homes, it has consistently produced beautiful, fresh loaves, as well as pizza dough, ciabatta, focaccia and numerous other variants. To me, it has always been a total miracle of a machine: the fact you can tip in seven simple ingredients one evening, whack on the timer, and wake up to the most heavenly bready smell the following morning never ceases to amaze me.

And it has lasted 13 years – a pretty decent lifespan for any electronic item. The non-stick has gone, and loaves now require a plastic fish-slice to cajole them out of the tin – but the quality of bread has not suffered. If ever we become complacent about what this marvellous machine does for us, we need only listen to visiting family and friends who are often vocal about the quality of the bread.

Why do I mark the birthday of our breadmaker? Only because it was a wedding gift.  One-by-one, the beautiful array of presents received on 13 July 2002 have ended their life. Plates have smashed, bed linen has ripped, microwave has broken and been replaced (twice). This last year saw the final demise of our wedding saucepan set. The breadmaker, however, seems to be matching us year for year, in a silent but unswerving contest to see which one of us can survive the most usage.

Three years ago, I wrote that I felt like a fraud. Our marriage hadn’t had any serious knocks or tumbles – no challenges to make us or break us. Simply two individuals bumbling through life together while the years rack up.

The last three years, whilst they could never be described as ‘hard’ compared with what many families have to contend with, have brought their own set of challenges. But do you know what? The challenges haven’t felt challenging. They’ve brought us closer together, alligned our minds, strengthened our relationship, and enriched our family.

We’ve learned about guidance, and listening to God, and how He brings all things together so perfectly when we leave Him to it.

We’ve learned that human wisdom is fallible.

We’ve learned more about children at risk, fostering, adoption, and God’s heart for ‘orphans’.

We’re more compassionate than we were three years ago – not just with children, but with the vulnerable adults that we’re now meeting and befriending regularly.

We’re learning to entrust our children to God – and realising that, when we do, they get His best, which is far better than ours.

We’ve learned – I write hesitantly, still not quite sure I want to be here – that the safest place to be is a place of risk, a place where all you can do is throw yourself onto God and wait for His perfect will to be done in His perfect way.

Was it a challenge turning down a perfectly good job? Was it a challenge to send Mister to a school which was ‘failing’ by Ofsted standards? Is it a challenge to now be preparing for adoption? Well yes, I suppose so – but actually no. If God is the foundation of our marriage, then these things are the bricks and mortar. They strengthen us, draw us together, produce perseverance, and make us more aware of our Cornerstone, Jesus.

The breadmaker may be scratched and worn, splashed and burnt – and we, too, are a little more worn than we were 13 years ago, a little greyer, a little flabbier, with darker circles under our eyes and more questions in our hearts. But God has been faithful in putting those vital ingredients into our lives, and it’s to His glory, and by His grace, that we stand here today, still Mr&Mrs.

Posted in adoption, identity, jesus

adoption: is faith a disadvantage?

It’s something several people have asked as we’ve headed down the adoption path recently. (For more on our adoption journey so far, you could read this and this.) “What do they think about your faith?” “Do they mind that you’re Christians?”

I guess they have in mind horror stories like this one, where a Christian couple were not approved as prospective adopters, essentially because of their beliefs. But, like most ‘real-life’ stories in the media, this is just one isolated example and, terribly sad though it is, I’m (optimistically?) guessing it’s not indicative of how most people-of-faith are treated up and down the country.

Certainly it hasn’t been our experience thus far. So much about our faith has given us positive answers to the many questions asked by our social worker. For one, it is vital that prospective adopters have a strong support network, to help them weather the challenges that adopting a child will no doubt bring. Being part of a church gives you this support automatically – we know so many people who would bring round a meal, look after our birth kids, or come and clean our house at the drop of a hat – not because they know us that well, but because this is simply what a functioning church family does for each other. Add this support network to our other friends and family, and it starts to look pretty attractive to any assessing social worker.

In addition to friends asking us whether the adoption agency ‘minds’ that we’re Christians, some follow the question with a statement such as “…because it must come up, surely?”, as if we could go weeks and weeks in the process before the issue of our faith was raised. Not so. Our faith underpins everything we do, every decision we make and every relationship we have. We don’t always do the right thing – far from it – but everything in our lives comes from the starting point that we trust in Jesus as our Saviour and friend.

So, to give you a few examples, we get grilled on our relationship with each other (as in, four hours of grilling!). How did we meet? Christian Union… How did we know it was right to get married? Prayer… How do we make decisions? We pray…  I’m giving you the abbreviated, simplistic response just to make a point – clearly there’s slightly more to it than that – but you get the idea.

Then we talk about finances, and the social worker sees that our approach to money is quite different. “So, you decide how much you need to live on, and then give the rest away?” asks one, cocking her head to one side as she tries to get into our clearly-extremely-warped minds. “Er…no…it’s kind of like the opposite…” we reply – clearly not a very satisfying answer.

We discuss identity, and have the privilege of chatting about Christ’s love for all, regardless of ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation – and, hence, the welcome and acceptance that is found in our church family for everyone.

We talk about values and morals and how we nurture and educate our birth children. We’re asked about our early experiences, through childhood and adolescence, what kind of educational experiences we’ve had, and our employment history. We discuss how we spend our time, how we use our home, how we celebrate occasions. Through all of these questions our faith has ‘come up’, so it’s no surprise to find that it’s a big part of the final report which has now been written on us. Whether it hijacks our chances of success at the adoption panel remains to be seen – but, for now, the most important thing is that we’ve been able to be genuine and honest, and our social worker has responded positively to the fact that we’re Christians. What happens from now on is in God’s hands, and we have total peace about that.

Posted in change, family, identity, jesus, me

on giving away – and letting go

It’s Amy’s fault.

As soon as she mentioned she was doing a 40bags challenge for Lent (giving away one bag of Stuff each day during Lent), that was it – I was hooked. Like Amy, my motivation was largely selfish, excited about the excuse to de-clutter all the Randomness which quickly builds up in our home, but I also sensed that sorting through our possessions on such a large scale would also be spiritually cleansing.

As you’ll know by now, I didn’t achieve this challenge in 40 days. (Why stick to 40, when 60 is so much more…expansive?) So now, more than a month after Easter, here’s what I learnt from my Lent challenge.

The first two bags were filled in about 20 minutes one afternoon before the school run. The ease at which I could release these possessions both relieved and disgusted me – relief from the sense that I was holding lightly to what I own, but disgust from just how easy it was to identify superfluous goods.

I gave away some classic books – and, with these, gave away the notion that I will ever be the sort of person who will read a book twice.

I gave away my academic texts which look impressive on our bookshelves – and let go of the need to look intellectual when people visit our home.

I encouraged my children to fill a bag with their toys – and, as their non-materialistic selves happily made a pile of things they didn’t want, I let go of my overwhelming urge to cautiously rein in their generosity, knowing that to do so would be to point them towards the path of Consumerism.

I gave away the beautiful, soft maroon suit I bought for my first job – and, with this, let go of the need to define myself by what I used to do.

I gave away my favourite ever boots, which have long been unwearable – and let go of the idea that they could ever mean more to me than simple foot coverings.

I threw away food which has been around longer than my children. Cornflour pushed to the back of the cupboard, pomegranate seeds I will never use, ready-made icing – hardened and unforgiving. I threw it away – and let go of the guilt I’m wired to feel when throwing away food.

It scares me how much of my identity is wrapped up in what I own. But, this Spring, I untangled myself a little from the complex relationship I have with my Stuff. Perhaps, instead, I will find a little more of my identity in Christ.