Friday, 23 February 2018

The Outing

"Let's go on an outing!" I said! "No!" they replied. "It'll be lame! We just want to stay here and play on the tablet/watch CBeebies on the tablet/do homework on the laptop (really?!)" "Come on! Get up! I'm packing a picnic. Well, we'll split it between our rucksacks and that way we won't need a separate picnic bag and we can leave the buggy here as that'll be easier on the bus. We're going to a country park and farm we last visited 9 years ago. Look. Here are the photos. Weren't you two tiny and cute? Look how happy you were!" Cue moans and groans, but to give them their due, they got up and got on with it. I made a stack of ham sandwiches ("I don't like ham!" "Oof you had it in your lunchbox last week, and it's all I've got in."), and hoped that the bread would defrost by the time we came to eat it for lunch, forward planning not necessarily my thing... I also grabbed a packet of mini breaded chicken bites from the freezer, a few other bits and cobbled together an unplanned picnic.

Bags packed ("Come on sweetie I need you to empty your school bag so we can pack it for the day please." "But you didn't tell me last week what the plan was! You can't just expect me to do that now! I haven't had any notice! Aaaargh!" "I know. I'm sorry. I've only just worked out the plan myself." "Aaaargh! I'm staying here!" "Sweetie come back please! We'll miss the bus if we don't get these bags packed!" I hadn't actually planned which bus we'd get, but I was hoping that the need to catch the bus and so stick to the albeit last minute plan A would trump the need for advance warning in the world of autism, and this time it did...) and we set off from home at 10:25. It turns out that the promise of "seeing some animals" did little to comfort the 2-year-old's anguish at having to walk. The day before I had pushed an empty buggy while she ran ahead for most of the afternoon, but today it was a very noisy affair getting to the bus stop, and time was of the essence as Google informed me that the bus was running early.

We found the right bus stop, and it turns out that it's very useful having a sophisticated nearly 12-year-old who, since starting secondary school in September, is now a seasoned bus passenger. Weird though, bowing to her superior knowledge. We boarded with no problem (only a couple of minutes late, but the sky was blue and although we weren't actually in fine spirits, it wasn't too disastrous a mood between the lot of us while we waited), trying out an e-ticket for the first time (What if my phone dies?!) and took over the back seats. Oh. Travel sickness. I'd sort of forgotten that the nearly 12-year-old, the 2-year-old and I all suffer. But despite my almost constant questioning - Do you feel sick?! Tell me if you do! - we were all fine. I did have a Porta Potty liner at the ready, previous experience suggesting that the 2-year-old wouldn't either get or give much warning before spewing everywhere.

The 40ish minute bus ride passed without a hitch, thankfully, and it turns out that the 5-year-old is a particularly amusing passenger, and journeys seem to bring out the reminiscing in us all, especially with the 10-year-old who can remember every place we've ever visited.

Google was vastly optimistic on how long it would take us to walk to the country park and farm, especially with a full-volume shouting 2-year-old. Also, the sky was rather grey, and it was a lot colder than Coventry. The 5-year-old refused her hat and gloves. I failed to insist. Lesson learned.

After nearly half an hour of much moaning (nearly 12-year-old), shouting (2-year-old) and towing of the 2-year-old and "Come on! We're going to see the animals!", we arrived at a muddy track that Google said was the way to go. ("Ugh this is disgusting!" - nearly 12-year-old.) The track led us to a boggy, grassy field ("Ugh this is disgusting!" - nearly 12-year-old) and then a small play park, which instantly fixed everything for the intrepid 2-year-old, who got stuck in climbing and sliding and spinning. Being nearly 12 can be quite difficult if the play park is 'lame', and as a direct consequence, the play park was also rubbish for the nearly 10-and-half-year-old, who often emulates her older sister. The 5-year-old asked for her gloves. I shoved on her hat. Too late.

It turns out that it was a bitterly cold day, and I hadn't dressed anybody in enough clothing. The day before we'd been in Coventry city centre and it had been quite mild, with coats undone, hanging off shoulders and everything. Today was altogether different. I should have been alerted to impending disaster when the 5-year-old asked at that point to go home. The older girls asked that too, but we had to go and see the promised animals, who of course, were all inside as they're not daft. We noted the chickens, saw a rabbit, stroked a calf and a cow, noting the fur (soft) and the size (massive!), duly washed our hands at the outside tap which was a feat with coats on and mittens dangling on elastic, then the 2-year-old demanded lunch. We passed some pigs who were half buried in their straw inside their sty, huddled together for warmth, then came to a bench. The 5-year-old was beginning to whimper. The 2-year-old again asked for lunch. "Yes! Let's sit here. It's clean and out of the wind. Come on! Get all the food out." The 12-year-old went on strike and needed much cajoling. The 10-year-old loves food so just got on with it, plus was very helpful. The 2-year-old plonked herself down and also got on with it. The food was somewhat the worse for wear as the girls had sat on the bus with their rucksacks on, squashing the various bits of picnic that they carried. The 5-year-old had a full on meltdown, bless her. The whole of the farm learned that she didn't like ham and that she was frozen and just wanted to go home. The 10-year-old and I tried to huddle round her like penguins, at which point the 2-year-old felt left out and wanted to join the huddle. Most of us didn't eat much food. The chicken bites were still frozen. It wasn't that out of the wind after all. We were frozen. The 5-year-old cried and cried. We packed up and went to the loos. Again, not an easy task with coats and rucksacks and useless hand driers. We whizzed round the rest of the tiny farm ("Oh look! Donkeys!" "Mum, they're Shetland Ponies." "Er, oh yes. So they are. Silly me.") and left. "Perhaps this is more of a summer trip," I said sheepishly.

We still had the half an hour walk, the 40 minute bus ride and then the 10 minute walk to do before we got home. I checked that nobody needed the loo again before we set off. And then the dreaded 4 words. "I need a poo!" Right in the middle of suburbia, the long road not providing any corners to hide in. Thankfully - joy of joys! - I had the Porta Potty in my rucksack, so we set up camp by the only house that didn't have a driveway, their rare front garden wall providing shelter. "Girls! Form a circle round your sister please! Protect her dignity!" We closed ranks, and all of a sudden it was just very funny, especially to the 5-year-old, watching her little sister enthroned. I had prayed for something to redeem the day, especially for her, so I guess God has a sense of humour!

The deed done, I now had the problem of what to do with the shamefully opaque potty liner, dangling off my finger. My apologies, number 12. Your wheelie bin was closest on your driveway to the pavement, although scuttling back up your driveway felt like a very long walk of shame. Especially as I followed it with, "Run girls! Before they see us!"

The light relief was short-lived as the 2-year-old returned to her protestations at having to walk, and our arrival at the bus stop with only 4 minutes to wait made me happier than it ought, but at least the 5-year-old had stopped whimpering. She was back to her crazy self, and by the time we got on the bus, she informed me that she was "defrosting". The 2-year-old fell asleep, which at least meant that I didn't have to worry about her being travel sick. She also then walked the 10 minutes home with no grumbling.

We got home shortly after half 2, which means we were only out for just over 4 hours, most of which was spent walking or on the bus. Given the time spent waiting for the bus, the 40ish minutes spent walking each way, the 40 minutes on the bus each way, the 2 loo stops, I reckon we spent 50 minutes in the play park and the farm, during which time we also attempted to eat lunch, and the 5-year-old had a meltdown. I think I'll chalk that one up to experience!

After we'd finished our squashed lunch, now with hot chocolate and marshmallows, the nearly 12-year-old sat down with the laptop, turned the radio on and did her homework. The little two grabbed the tablet and watched CBeebies. I tried to suggest to the 10-year-old that she tidied her side of the her room so she earned back her tablet, but she didn't like that idea. The tablet the little girls had soon ran out of batteries, and mutiny was threatening. I wanted to see what creativity would emerge from their boredom and made a few suggestions, but it was the 10-year-old who came to the rescue by helping them with some crafts and then she found the sweet shop toy for them all to play with together. I thought I'd just have a little sit down on the sofa, but ended up rather too comfortable, refereeing from under a cosy blanket. I was too mean/not mean and thinking of their teeth to permit actual sweets with the sweet shop, but when I suggested they make some out of paper and bits and pieces, the 5-year-old exclaimed, "Mummy! That's a brilliant idea!" and I felt justified in my sofa parenting.

When Mark came home, the children were doing homework and crafts and role play and getting along fabulously. I was still on the sofa. "I'm afraid you're going to have to sort dinner out." "Oh OK. How was your day? Did you go out? What's for dinner?" "It's yesterday's leftovers, some squashed ham sandwiches and a few chicken bites. Yes we went out. Tell Daddy about our adventure girls!"

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Valentine's Day


Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone. It was another in which I didn’t receive a card, chocolates, flowers or indeed any material gift from my husband. In fact, he has never marked it with me – not once – in the twenty or so years that we have only had eyes for each other. Why? At my request. Yes it’s in protest at the commercialisation of the most beautiful thing (love), but it’s also in solidarity with those for whom it is an achingly sad day, not to mention those navigating the trickiness of their first 14th February with a new partner. Giant teddy bear, anyone? This is a personal thing, a feeling I arrived at as a teenager, and imagine my fury when as a sixteen-year-old, one month into a relationship, that chap ignored my wishes not to receive anything and instead listened to the advice of a mate who told him that I couldn’t possibly mean that, that I was testing him, and that he definitely should get me something. I held that Forever Friends teddy in sentimental disdain for years until it ended up in a charity shop. But that’s another story. I am not anti Valentine’s Day, and I like seeing the various ways couples express their love for each other. I am just uneasy with, I don’t know, some of the uneasiness and pressure it can bring into a relationship, and the commercial expectation accompanying it. Moreover, it enforces society’s message that pairing off is the norm and the goal, when we know from 1 Corinthians 7 that staying single is eminently desirable. I don’t like stuff that makes single people feel inadequate or less than whole.

The Mister, my husband, is (thankfully!) perfectly in agreement. On previous Valentine’s Days we’ve had folk round for dinner or I’ve had some of the single ladies from church round for tea and cake whilst The Mister has made himself scarce. Oh how patronising of me, it might be said. Well I haven’t advertised it as a pity party for those less fortunate than myself in the romantic department, but just created the opportunity for a few people to be busy, should they wish to be, with no mention of St. Valentine. I like the idea of paying the love forward, somehow, celebrating love and my friendships, bringing joy instead of feelings of inadequacy and loneliness.

I had been thinking of writing a post mainly about my husband, ‘Best Husband In The World’ and all that, and about how #blessed I am, but it doesn’t sit right. Yes I spent Valentine’s Day in bed, recuperating from a rather tenacious virus, and yes he offered to take the day off work to look after the kids to facilitate that, and yes, I am blessed; but this week I have read a blog by someone recently and suddenly bereaved of his beloved wife; I have listened to and prayed for a friend whose harrowing ex-relationship circumstances are so beyond my idyllic bubble that I am still reeling; and I do not want to seem to gloat over how I just happened to be married to a good 'un. That, really, had nothing to do with me, my ability to pick 'em, or indeed whether or not I deserve him (I don’t) or deserve to be happy. That is not the point. Rather, I do not need a partner, good or otherwise, to shower me with things either to prove to me how loved I am or to bolster my self-worth. That’s not to say that I know these things intrinsically, being naturally fearful and fragile. Instead, I know that I am loved because God so loved me that he gave his only Son for me (John 3:16). I know that I am worth it, despite myself and my failings, because while I was still a sinner, Christ died for me (Romans 5:8). There is no greater love. My marital circumstances will one day change. One day either The Mister or I will find ourselves once again single, widowed. (Unless of course we’re involved in some freak accident that takes us to glory at the same time, but I hope not, for the girls’ sake…) Once again single, I will still be loved and will still be worth it. God's love for me will not be shaken. I will be lonely, yes, and Valentine’s Day may well be hard. I hope I’ll still have some friends who’ll invite me round for tea and cake, or better still, bring it to me. In the meantime, as long as I’m not in bed with a virus or the like, pop round and see us next February 14th. I won’t promise cake, but hopefully we will bring you joy. You are loved.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Philoxenia

I quite like the idea of a motto verse, a Bible verse to hold on to and live by, perhaps for a year or longer. I like the idea, but never make much of an effort at the end of December to think (or indeed pray) about one. I don't know why (duh... God?) but lately I've been drawn to Romans 12:13:

Share with the Lord's people who are in need. Practise hospitality.

It's that last bit that has gripped me. In other translations, it's rendered, "pursuing hospitality", "given to hospitality" or "Be hospitable." But the Aramaic Bible in Plain English leaped out at me: "befriend strangers". The term "hospitality" had been reduced in my understanding to having a few folk from church round for dinner every so often, and little more than that. I had to look it up, and discovered that it meant so much more than that to the Apostle Paul, who wrote the letter of Romans. The Greek, φῐλοξενῐ́ᾱ (philoxeníā), literally means 'love of strangers', and encompassed hospitable acts such as taking in strangers who were hanging about in the town square waiting for lodgings for the night. As Christians, we are to be given to this kind of behaviour, indeed pursuing it.

What does this mean for me and my family? We live in a small house, with no more room to take in anyone. When we have people round for dinner, our table extends, but to fit eight or nine in, one of us is perched on the sofa, well below the level of the other diners sat on chairs! It's a squash and a squeeze to say the least. Last summer, we squashed all 4 girls into one bedroom for 2 weeks while we hosted 2 American teenagers as part of a mission team, but it wasn't a sustainable living arrangement, not least because we only have one loo in the whole house. But what about the homeless guy living in our street right now as I type? Shouldn't I be inviting him in to live in my home? It would be pretty radical. Maybe long term that is where this is heading, but for now, God is bestowing me with the grace to start small. For years our family has befriended those from other countries whose paths have somehow crossed our path. We are now blessed with international friends all over the world, and could possibly circumnavigate the globe with offers of hospitality extended in reciprocity towards us. For now, we will carry on with this. We'll carry on seeking out the stranger, being the friendly face, inviting them round for dinner or simply a cup of tea if I have no energy for dinner. The Lord knows the limitations of my energy, and He's not trying to catch me out. That said, there will be times when I borrow from the Energy Bank, not knowing how I'm going to recover my losses, and trust that He'll make a deposit (guaranteeing my inheritance?) and balance the books. It will be a sacrifice and will cost, both in terms of our energy levels, but also emotionally. We have said a lot of goodbyes already, and are in the process of another one, as our first Turkish friends depart Coventry for good. How can we regret, however, knowing that we have contributed to someone's time in Coventry being more pleasant than it otherwise would have been?

I want to go deeper and wider: deeper as we look at being more intentional in our hospitality, which involves having the ingredients and knowledge to rustle up a simple meal at short notice, keeping the house in some sort of order (downstairs at least... upstairs is a disaster... And downstairs we still have bare plaster on the walls and it's definitely got that 'lived in by a feisty family of six' vibe... But it's hopefully not the kind of place you leave feeling like you need to wash your hands...), and it's not minding that it's not perfect; and wider as I seek to be consistently friendly and welcoming to whomever God places in my path, whether that's a fellow mum at school, or someone I exchange pleasantries with as we stand waiting for the green man. And exchange pleasantries I will. It might be embarrassing to my older kids, but as Jesus was asked, "Who is my neighbour?", so I want to think, "Who is the stranger?" Well, it's anyone I don't know that well yet. I want, through God's grace, to turn strangers into neighbours. This takes time, so it's being intentional about not being too busy.

And this brings me back to our Turkish friends. They were our actual neighbours, living just round the corner. I regret the months that we merely smiled at them before properly getting to know them. I think we were too British in our reserve.  Philoxenia, it seems to me, means fighting against the reserve, the embarrassment, the shyness. What does it matter if we fall flat on our faces, really? If God is with us, then who can be against us? If God is with us, then who can hide behind their shyness being 'just the way I am'? Start small, and be amazed. You'll be blessed more than the awkwardness costs you. But don't be surprised at the cost either.

In the current xenophobic climate in the UK, just think what a revolution of Christians practising philoxenia could do, especially when the philos, the love, stems from the love of Christ.

Monday, 9 October 2017

By what authority?

Everyone's a writer. Or thinks they are. In this day and age there is no shortage of words, of opinion, be that written, spoken, blogged or vlogged. Get a cool graphic for your logo, build a Facebook, Insta or YouTube 'community', collect the likes and shares and you're away, the validation lending you an air of authority. Your community follows you. You speak a lot of truth. Perhaps they look up to you. Perhaps you're relatable because your self-deprecating humour makes them look and feel better about their own often-found-wanting lives. But then you say something that divides your community and now no-one quite knows what to believe. Perhaps your latest overshare shocks or disappoints. They don't instantly read your latest post, and the number of hits isn't what it used to be. From viral to sterile. Wait! I've got more to say! I'm still relevant. Aren't I?

The truth is, the Truth is, our words are merely a morass of mumbling, sliding about, drifting even, unless they're anchored to the Truth, a truth so timeless that even the least stroke of the letters that comprises these words of Truth never gets rubbed out. Every dotted i and crossed t remains. We can all have an opinion, sure, but our opinion reflects our worldview, and unless our worldview is rooted firmly in the unchanging, our opinion can have no lasting authority, and our community, our followers, desert us.

When Jesus taught people, "They were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority." (Luke 4:32) Jesus, fully God, taught with timeless authority by very virtue of his being God, and this was evident to his listeners. Matthew puts it like this: "When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law." (Matt 7:28‭-‬29) What's the difference between Jesus and the teachers of the law? Both taught using ancient holy texts, what Christians refer to as the Old Testament, but Jesus had himself and the Kingdom of God at the centre of his teaching. The Truth then, is Jesus. He does not change, and his words do not fail. We, therefore, cannot speak or write with authority unless it's derived from him. Our words will pass away.

Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
(Matt. 28:18)

Friday, 2 June 2017

That Trip to Ikea

Today we had that trip to Ikea, that trip to Ikea, where the child who has been stroppy and misbehaving all day ramps it up a notch and you find yourself - amid storage solutions - quietly hissing threats and consequences if attitudes don't improve but you know you're still a harridan really. Additionally it was also that trip to Ikea where your storage solution is discontinued in the colour you want as it matches the rest of your furniture and you are thrown and can't make an alternative decision, as finally in your head, you knew how to solve the Great Shoe Pile, but now you are thwarted. We decide to ponder our dilemma over meatballs, and weirdly it was also that trip to Ikea where child number 1 helps Daddy choose the free fruit for the little ones, only to select an apple - the only apple left - with a bite taken out a it. No quibbles in swapping it, and the apple basket replenished. It was also that trip where your two-year-old breaks free from Daddy's hand in an instant, and runs towards the lift, putting her hand on the door to steady herself so as to press the button to summon it, just as, still in that instant, Daddy shouts, "Fingers!" and whips her hand away, not before in that same instant the door has opened, swallowing her little fingers and bruising them and taking a small chunk out of a nail. Screams and shrieks, and all 6 of us piling in with the trolley, only for me to insist on First Aid, so we back out of the lift, still with much screaming. The Welcome Desk coworker doesn't know what to do. Ring someone please. We just need some ice or a cold pack ASAP. Eight minutes later a First Aider arrives. No cold pack. We send them to the restaurant kitchen. They have no ice they announce, with apologies. In the meantime another customer asks something and they leave us standing there while they serve her and answer her query about a chest of drawers. I order them to go and get at least a glass of cold water until a cold pack can be located. Fifteen to twenty minutes after the incident, which turned out not to be that serious, thankfully, a cold pack was located in the First Aid kit belonging to "Kitchens". I ask, "Shouldn't each one of your First Aid kits contain one? We just wanted to get something cold on her fingers straight away." "Oh yes they should, and they are restocked every night, but it's Half Term and we've had more children in than usual," replies the First Aider. They've been advertising extra Half Term activities for children, to bring more of them and their furniture-buying parents in, so they weren't unexpected. "There have been a lot of fingers trapped in lift doors lately. We've put warning signs on," says Mr Welcome Desk. "I'm afraid she's only two and can't read, and despite us being careful, she's too quick for us sometimes. We have been fearing those doors for long time." Hmm. It was that trip to Ikea where, unable to decide an alternative colour, we headed in desperation for the Bargain Corner and found one in our colour! But it was twice the size of the one we wanted! Twice the size! We mentally move furniture around and decide to buy it. It's huge, and already assembled, being ex-display. It's OK we are told, we can flat pack it quite easily, and have 24 hours to collect it from the Lock Up, so we will all go home and Daddy will come back With Tools later. A second trolley is found and we finally and precariously wend our way to the tills, only to be told the Lock Up is no longer in use following Manchester. Just that: Manchester. No explanation needed. We buy it anyway, as Daddy divulges that Mr Bargain Corner snuck him an allen key, so armed with the essential contraband, he thinks he can do it. Tired kids in the car. Mummy and Daddy disassembling a larger than expected Kallax on the car park floor, with much pulling and shoving of planks and dowels required, without scratching the veneer on the rough concrete. We are racing against time: Ikea closing time and Ring Road closing for Motofest time. Bit by bit goes in. But not all of it. "Erm Mummy, I think you might be walking home." I look outside to the torrential rain that has taken coatless, be-sandalled me by surprise after the last few glorious days and evenings. But in the end, he dashes home, unloads the planks belted into my seat, runs in with a small child ("I need a wee!"), straps her back in and comes back for me.

I had no phone on me, unusually. I had to sit on a toadstall-shaped bollard next to the open doorway, waiting, not browsing or Matching Three.  I listened to the two-tone rain, the constant rice-in-a-rain-maker background to the heavier drips and splashes, and thought that it sounded like the foleyed in rain in films, but that, hang on, I was listening to the real thing and the films were merely a mirror. I breathed. I smiled at passers-by, some laughing at the rain, most steeling themselves in it, all rushing. I remembered the kind lady who had lent me her charger in the restaurant so I could (unsuccessfully as it turned out) charge my phone, and her beautiful little daughters. I wrapped my cardi around me a little tighter against the cold, and wondered where Coventry's homeless would be right then, trying to shelter from the rain. I wondered if the drastic and recent increase in the numbers sleeping rough in Coventry would continue, or if Something Would Be Done. I tried NOT to think about the election. And then I saw them come round the bend for me. I was thankful to have someone to come back for me and also that it took no time at all. (Five minutes fewer than it takes to get an ice pack in Ikea, actually.) And thankful to have a few minutes alone. It was that trip to Ikea, but it was timely. And our race against time? We made it, back home to the mess and the sodden laundry on the line and the hundreds of tongue depressers all over the floor (from some long forgotten project and whose sole existence in our home is as a means for small children to torture me by chucking them about) and the Kallax in bits and the sandpit sand on the kitchen floor and decided it'll all keep till the morning.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The Strength You Have

‘Pardon me, my Lord,’ Gideon replied, ‘but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, “Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?” But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.’ The Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?’
Judges 6:13‭-‬14

Go in the strength you have.

I had a light bulb moment this morning, hiding in the loo from the children and reading the Bible on my phone. I've been struggling again with not being enough, not feeling good enough to carry out the tasks and mission to which God has called me, wondering whether He has called me at all or whether I'm just flailing around, playing at life, soon to be caught out, the search light resting on my terrified, frozen face. You see, I'm tired. Dog tired. Retreating to horizontal on the sofa as soon as (equally exhausted) The Mister walks through the door - tired. I am a fraud who cannot manage to do it all, whose husband has to step in and do the lion's share in the evenings and weekends, because I cannot stay vertical. I am not enough. Literally. I am absent from my children's lives most evenings. I feel guilty. My children are missing out and The Mister rarely gets a break. I know I'm probably not that lazy, but it feels like I'm just being lazy and I just need to pull my socks up. That is the narrative.

Go in the strength you have. Am I not sending you?

Oh-kaaaay. So God's got this, my meagre attempt at mothering, my children, my poor neglected husband, my physical inability to invest as much as I'd like in relationships with family and friends. The whole thing. Me. He knows. He sees. He loves. He equips. He is the strength. My limited physical strength is no hindrance. I have to go, to step out. If he is sending me on a mission, whatever that mission is, staying put and not stepping out is not an option.

But He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

I don't know how this will end up working for our family, our children. I can't see the end. But I can trust, and it is very freeing. It's not about me at all, after all. God gave us those 4 precious ones to look after, but He also gave them a mother who wasn't always going to fire on all cylinders. He also gave them a father who would just get on with it, quietly serving faithfully with no fuss.

The power of Christ rests on me and I honestly don't believe that God is in the business of trying to catch people out, to make them look bad. God is not into schadenfreude. My feelings of guilt are misplaced, their root either in my pride - because I want to do it all, to be good enough, to excel on my own - and can't; or it is because I have listened to the Accuser of the Brethren whose narrative is never in my best interests and who wants me to get distracted and wants me to believe all kinds of things about what I should be doing or being.

It's not easy, but it is simple, uncomplicated. Before we go out on whatever our mission is, before we make breakfast and herd a pack of kids to school, being still even for a moment works wonders. Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10) "Yes, yes, well it's easy to be still when you're horizontal a lot of the time. You're literally still." Yes you are, physically. There's more to it than that though. Turn off the telly, the radio. Put your phone down! Pick up your Bible. Pray during the racing thoughts. Keep praying until you are still. Be still. Be it. Then, don't empty your mind, fill it. Fill it with Christ, with His Word, the Bible. Know Him. Know that He is God. I speak to myself and for my benefit here too. Hide in the loo if you must. Be still and know that He is God. He loves, He speaks, He is the strength for the mission.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Diagnosis

Today we had a diagnosis for Big Grin. Autism Spectrum Disorder. If old terminology were used, Asperger's would fit the bill. It's not a shock; it's been a long time coming. Currently in Coventry, the waiting time for assessment is over two years. Right now, as her school is serving her pretty well, it doesn't really change anything. It doesn't change her. It's a relief though, that as parents, our hunch was right and now we have access to other support if needed. It's no surprise to Big Grin either. She's clever; and knowing. Over the next few days we may be privvy to her thoughts and feelings on it, or we may not. We shall see. At any rate, as I said to the diagnosing psychologist MH, with the right support, there's every hope for her future.

That was this afternoon. This morning I embarked on day 7 of our current Bathroom Renovation Morning Routine, which basically means getting everyone up and out a bit earlier than usual so the men can crack on, with a few extra jobs done like the breakfast dishes not only washed, but dried and put away too to spare them from the dust. It's all hands on deck and it's wearing a bit thin. But we are reminding ourselves that it's not forever, we're blessed to be having it done, and even with only having an inside toilet pan and a bucket with which to flush it, we still have more than a lot of women and girls in the world: a safe, inside toilet over night. However, between the hours of 8:30 and 4:30 the basic toilet is removed to make space for the guys to work, which means that the girls and I - including potty training Rizzy - have to stay out all day. It is exhausting. With 3 school runs a day we cannot venture too far, and after a morning at Nursery Biscuit is already quite tired. Sometimes we go to a friend's home, but that requires manners and continuing to be sociable when some quiet down time or even a nap might be preferred. Sometimes we go to the library or to Ikea, but then it is quite a dash to make it to the toilet for Rizzy. Sometimes we go to the park, but that involves the trusty Porta Potty. All of this is done on foot as I don't drive, and for the most part, Biscuit is being brilliant and uncomplaining. Even Rizzy though, who can fall asleep in the buggy, is showing signs of fatigue. And for Big Grin? She's coping as best as she can, but the upheaval is difficult. I'm proud of them all. Little Feet is most definitely bearing the brunt of the extra chores.

This morning after a straightforward school run, Rizzy and I had coffee with 3 lovely friends and their little ones, and I used Sarah's shower (so much nicer than the bucket arrangement at home). We then went back to school to collect Biscuit from Nursery, then walked to another friend's to eat our packed lunch. Having taken the afternoon off, The Mister collected me, we left Biscuit and Rizzy with our friend and went to Big Grin's assessment, via home and a quick word with the builders. After the assessment and diagnosis we collected the little 2, just in time for the Mister to run up the road to school with towels and shower gel, collect the big 2 from after school choir, and deposit them with another friend round the corner for them to have showers! And that's pretty much how we're operating at the moment. It struck me today how blessed I am with so many lovely people who have offered the use of their shower, let me and the girls hang out at their place for hours at a time, or who have minded our girls for us. Like Big Grin, I have struggled in the past with friendships, and it was good to think, actually, she'll be OK.

Then, to round off a full, positive day, The Mister cooked dinner and did all the bedtime routine whilst I first had a nap and then went out to a ladies' event at church. It was packed, and I got a seat at the back, but not before I bumped into the psychologist MH. It was awkward, weird, a bit flabbergasting, but made me realise that God had one of His people in that assessment this afternoon. My heart was singing as we raised the roof with "It is well with my soul" and "Every blessing You pour out I'll turn back to praise." Moreover, we heard in the talk that God has prepared good works for us to do in advance, and that He knows us so well that these works are for our good, and that God wants to draw us out into being the best, the fullest we can be, as He created us to be. The biblical woman used as an example? Esther. So our Esther, our Big Grin, is in God's hands. She has a diagnosis, but that by no means limits God's prognosis for her life.