Category Archives: God

Depression Toolkit #3: Alone places

Here are some of my favourite places to be, because I can be alone:

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Thetford Forest, off the beaten track

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Oxburgh Hall’s new water meadow, while the family take a different route

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RSPB Minsmere play area (spotted!)

Did they expect twitchers to need a playground? Did they realise that because it is so quiet there you can see deer too?

Quiet is great. Being alone is great, in short bursts.

At home I am less likely to get away from everything, but it is often easy to be alone when washing up.

And there are bonuses, such as watching the odd Chinese Dragon eating my unsuspecting husband.

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And I can also get space to myself in the bath, on the computer or by watching TV or a film. I can go and sit with the guinea pigs for a while and see how they’re doing. They don’t say a lot, are very useful for mowing the lawn and finish all their vegetables.

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Children, animals, nature, quiet. All great excuses to get away from grown-up frantic activity. I am impressed that Jesus was also one for getting away to natural spots, even if he had to keep trying because people needed him and he was desperately needing some space to grieve (Matthew 14). If at first you don’t succeed in getting some alone time, try, try, try again.

“After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray”

Matthew 14:23a

 

Depression Toolkit #1: Not alone

It is not always easy to blog, or get back to people, or meet people. I am learning to increase what I do gently as my medication allows me to function more and more. I did a Mondaysworth of jobs yesterday and have done more than I thought I could today too, so am metaphorically patting myself on the back.

I decided to begin a list on this blog of tools for fighting depression and anxiety: The Depression Toolkit. I can look at it for reminders when I am forgetful and also look back in the future to recognise how far I’ve come. If any are any use to other readers, so much the better.

I visited a friend yesterday who reminded me that even while getting to church services is too daunting, there are some amazing online resources, such as Liquid Church. One recent talk had reminded her of me, and it appears it might be relevant to so many others in a similar position. It is not hard to fall into negative thinking when you are an educated and aspirational woman with a young family, feeling frustrated with your lot despite being overwhelmed with it. Rebekah Lyons tells her story of freefall – which she has written a book about, and a clip to give you an idea is shown below.

It doesn’t bug me any more when others have had similar experiences. It inspires me, because there are others around, cheering those of us who struggle on. And perhaps God is even doing a new thing in us when we do freefall.

I am blessed with family, but more than that, blessed with people who choose to be in my life and choose to help: they are numerous, generous and marvellous. My husband particularly is a big blessing to me at the moment – an amazing man, quietly cheering me on and enabling me and taking on responsibilities with the children and the guinea pigs when I reach the invisible walls.

So my first tool is to remember that I am not alone – I am not the first person to be here, there are many supporters around in many forms and there is proof of recovery.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” Hebrews 12:1

Smelly Week

It all started when the jar of nard parted

Jarred, barred, open-hearted, broken-hearted,

What a strange smell, filling the house from roof to foot,

Smell of treasure, smell of death (tarted up).

Then branches waving in the king, palms up, palms down

Crunching under simple hooves, hay, swaying fresh and fuzzy.

Smelly feet, incomplete, bread and the vineyard and olives and torches –

Feast or final meal, more blood, more fire and the plaintive crow crow crowing.

Unknowing. Smell of fear, of sweat, of thorns and wood,

Smell of your trade, made rough, tough nails rusty, musty dust.

Smell of pain, again, again, again, sweat, blood, vinegar and hyssop.

Hyssop? Cleanse me too – blood rolling like tears, metallic, organic to the ground.

Bound, in myrrh, in aloe, from head to toe, so so dead. No!

No.

And then you said ‘why are you crying?’

And my world of tears and mud and blood split open and I breathed a different air. It smelt of life.

And it smelt good.

Giving up Pancakes for Lent

The flipside is, we can enjoy some tonight. The discerning ones in our household will have pancakes with the Maple Syrup I bought in Canada, and Lily will have one with the lemon and sugar I bought in Suffolk. Possibly without the pancake. Did I mention she was fussy? She even leaves bits of Giraffe Bread if the base is black, sweet and chewy. (I suspect a certain large supermarket are not cleaning the ovens too often.)

I do not usually give things up for Lent. This is for a number of reasons, including:

a) not living in a time of feast-or-famine (due to being in 2012);

b) having recently bought a load of self-pity chocolate to get over the tiredness and stress of being awake most of the night for the past two weeks (due to being a parent of a 4 and a 1 year old);

c) an almost complete lack of self-discipline when it comes to food (due to keeping food in the house);

d) not seeing Lent coming (due to a Baptist upbringing);

e) a lack of imagination in the originality department on these things.

Our church youth worker has suggested taking things up for Lent. This is very acceptable to me, and while snow-boarding, 5-star hotel inspecting and building a Taj Mahal out of Lego all appeal to me, perhaps that isn’t really the spirit of the thing. I am not going to set myself targets I cannot achieve or which are flippant, both of which are regular failings of mine. Instead, I intend to do something spiritual. I want to learn to pray better. When I pray, things happen. When others pray for me, things happen. When I do not pray, things are not so simple or peaceful. I want to spend time getting to know God better and listening to him.

So, now I have posted it here, I intend to take my resolution seriously. I am going to use the Re:Jesus website to inspire daily prayer and meditation, as I am a computer-oriented person. We’ll see how it works.

In the meantime, I’m hoping for a pancake pig-out tonight. Yum!

Lemons and Lemonade

Or maybe that should be School and Schooling. And my various prides and prejudices about the whole subject.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

When we moved to our terraced town house in a densely populated area a short distance from the centre of our lovely county town 6 years ago, we thought that catchment areas were worth knowing about but not stressing over. On checking I found there were 9 primary schools within a mile of our address and others just a short distance beyond. Since then another school has started up close by too, but more of that in due course.

Our next door neighbours had a son in the nearest primary at the time: let’s call it St Lemon’s. They indicated they were very happy with it and not to be put off by the tiny site, 400+ pupils, popular headteacher who was about to leave or multitude of languages (now over 20). Indeed, we shrugged this off at the time. Not a problem. St Lemon’s has a fair reputation. We both went to state primaries and didn’t do too badly.

But apparently the twin curses of being a parent are guilt and choice. Guilt that you have a choice when many do not. Guilt that you might have, on any given day made at least one bad choice regarding your child’s intake of food, amusement, learning, fresh air or morality. Guilt that you cannot know the full consequences of all your parenting choices until It Is Too Late. Leading inevitably to More Guilt.

It seems Choosing the Right School is even more of an issue than the daily non-reckoning of fruit and veg, or the minutes (cough) of television or the one-upmanship (or one-downmanship, depending on company) of your child’s development in the presence of other parents. I have recently noticed that everyone else’s child is a genius. This is truly marvellous. My fortunate children are blessed with the company of dozens of truly inspirational peers. Perhaps we should homeschool and just hope a little of what is so good locally rubs off on them too.

No. Homeschooling is not the answer. And this is the one thing I am certain of regarding choosing Lily’s school for next year.

I have found the relevant county document online which lists all sorts of useful data about applying to schools for September 2012. And I know people who have already applied, hoping an early application will help them get the place they want. Not true. But the document makes great reading. You can see which schools are undersubscribed (sadly, generally geographically placed near deprived social areas) and which are oversubscribed (higher Ofsted ratings, densely populated areas and more affluent parts of town). The most important column is actually the one telling you the criteria under which the final applicant successfully got a place for oversubscribed schools. Sometimes it is down to distance (in miles, to 3 d.p., or less than 2 metres). Sometimes in age difference between siblings at the school (in days). In the case of faith schools the number of points accrued matter, and then the other details come into play. Each faith school counts differently.

I learnt that Lily would have got into a nearby very popular Catholic primary school, let’s call it St Olive’s, which I had up until now assumed she could not have. St Olive’s is a walkable distance and impressed me when I visited as a trainee (and met some of my future form group, who are now in upper sixth). It is largely (previously exclusively) Catholic and feeds into the school I used to teach in. It is a smaller town school, but it has a larger playground area and some lovely classrooms and facilities, as well as great staff. I had not appreciated that St Olive’s would be on the table.

Also within close walking distance is a Church of England school, let’s call it St Bramley’s, which neighbours the park. We are out of parish, but very close geographically and would have got in this year, despite the one class intake. There are good things happening at St Bramley’s, which is well regarded locally and takes a lot of families who live near the park. Some of them gain extra points for attending St Bramley’s church frequently enough to guarantee a place. Most of them are white British. The uniform is rather nice and it is the kind of school a lot of people might expect us to send Lily to. Except I cannot condone walking past a multi-cultural normal school with people who didn’t have to score points specially to go to a CofE school which caters for rather nice families thankyou very much it saves on sending to The Cucumber School across the park and so much easier for the nanny too. Or even The Cucumber School for Girls, should we wish to remortgage.

There is another nice CofE school, St Runner Bean’s, where a number of our friends from church go and two of Lily’s NCT friends will be heading, but it is a much longer walk and we probably would not get in. They do a good fireworks night apparently.

Our nearest non-church school other than St Lemon’s (yes, it is a Saint school, no it is not VC) is Plum Lane Primary. But with a very large intake indeed and no chance of getting a place we will not be applying, despite the huge field and great special needs resources.

There are also the outliers, in both senses. There are small rural primary schools which do not receive enough applicants to fill all the spaces they can offer, and one we have been recommended by friends is St Blackberry’s, on the river Deben. Very small. Very local. Very is it time to go and get the kids again already? Not quite close enough to my husband’s work for him to do a drop-off.

It must be harvest. All this food on my brain. Making me hungry too. [Aside: just consumed a quarter of an apple we grew ourselves and very nice too. Of the 24 on the tree earlier in the year, a sixth survived The Big Prune, a quarter of what was left got Picked By an Undiscerning Toddler and a third of what was left has been Attacked By Something. So I don’t expect I’ll get any more, but what I had was good].

So sometimes I just want to take a lateral view of all these schooling options and see what I would do if I weren’t counting fruit.

Someone I know sends their child to the new Dinossori school. She recommended it to me. So I went to take a look with Lily last Tuesday. Ok, it was partly out of sheer curiosity as a teacher and undecided parent with extra helpings of Guilt and Choice. It does cost money to send a child to a Dinossori school, but much less than private. In fact, you only get two classrooms in the whole school too (Raptors and Sauropods, or something like it). So you’d hope that what was on offer was amazing, to convince parents to part with cash for the privilege. It was. The Raptors classroom, where Lily would start, was full of children all occupying themselves with wooden learning things, cooking, hammering or reading, as the spirit moved them. They were getting on with individual learning programmes in their own ways and loving it. They were owning their learning and had already spent time out of doors in the vast area alloted to them and were playing and enjoying what they were doing. Lily lit up. She spent the rest of the visit beaming, making new friends and getting stuck in to everything she could. The room was simply decorated and uncluttered. It was not noisy. It was happy. It was everything she loves. Lily was adamant that this was going to be her school. In fact, they could even have started her the next day and had it been up to her she would have. In case you don’t know, she’s not even 4 until November. It was a good thing that my husband had not got on board, as I was able to use him as a reason for needing some time to think it over. School at 3? But it was wonderful.

Except it is also self-selecting. And it is not walkable. All parents pay fees and although Lily might be well-suited to the learning styles employed (at least at first), Joseph may not.

High up our list is the practical item of location. And I think we are going to have to work through all the other variables we can think of to decide what else truly matters. Area of playground? Teaching style? Resources? Friendship groups? Ethical values? Acceleration or enrichment of able children? Lunches? Timings? Uniform?

And we are back to one of my prejudices. I like a proper uniform on a child. Something to be proud of. Unfortunately, at St Lemon’s, there just isn’t a unifying element to the uniform – it is quite varied and other clothes are also allowed (for good reason). Lily’s first day at the school nursery on Tuesday this week will not be in uniform, unlike many of her other friends. And it doesn’t matter, but it could be the first day of 8 years at this school. I want her to be proud of the school and feel part of a community. Of our community. I want her to start making lifelong friends and invite them round to play. Thankfully, we have lined up a visit to the School Proper straight after Lily’s induction, and I am hoping it will impress her as much as the Dinossori school. It may not be everything I want in a school. Architecturally it does nothing for me. I have felt let down already by the professionalism in their dealings with us. But it may be where we are meant to send our children. We do not take our children to church to get them into church schools with many others who have (perhaps hypocritically) done the same. Because we take our faith seriously we need to look seriously at sending them to the nearest school instead, and not be hypocrites about what we believe.

And who knows, maybe get a few more recipes for lemons.

Self-control in a wired world

Having stolen an idea from a friend for the previous post, I now ought to post a link my friend has just sent me to a thought-provoking talk about time-wasting.

Apologies if you do not come from the same background as me, but it is not too difficult to watch and has some ideas to prod us whatever our faith or spirituality. Apologies also if you noticed that Maslow’s hierarchy works the other way round when it comes to triangles. I knew there was something odd about it.

I didn’t do it

Dad sent me this. I thought it was incredibly well put and defends the position I take, so I am including it here on this auspicious day.

You know, the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. And Darwin. Presumably they were related, way back when.

Anyway, today’s Thought for the Day, from BBC Radio 4. Take it away, Revd Dr David Wilkinson:

Good morning. The 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin has led not only to celebration of his life but also extensive discussion concerning the religious consequences of his work. Atheism and six day creationism have given the impression that the legacy of Darwin is that God is a delusion, fulfilling George Bernard Shaw’s comment that ‘Darwin had the luck to please everybody who had an axe to grind’. Meanwhile, other religious commentators have been queuing up to say that Darwin and the Bible can walk hand in hand in celebrating the grandeur of this world.

As a physicist, a theologian and an evangelical Christian, I’m not in the camp of either atheism or six day creationism. I am immensely grateful for Darwin. I take seriously the weight of evidence for evolution and am filled with wonder at the world it so successfully describes. He doesn’t undermine my belief in a Creator God, but I do find he asks difficult questions for faith.

In that I’m not alone. The response to Darwin in the 19th century was complex and varied, contrary to the popular myth that evolution undermined the church which believed that the Universe was 6000 years old. From the earliest Jewish and Christian thinkers through to church leaders in the 1860s, few were biblical literalists and most didn’t see Genesis 1 as a scientific textbook. Indeed, some of the early supporters of evolution were evangelical Christians, ‘Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders’ as they have been called.

Darwin did however undermine two popular religious arguments. Natural selection gave a powerful alternative to the attempt of proving God from intelligent design. It also questioned the assertion that human beings were unique by virtue of being created separately from other species. In fact, I find neither argument at the core of my Christian faith. For Christians, the evidence for the existence and nature of God isn’t seen primarily in the natural world, but in the claim that God is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Further, human beings, even though we are made out of the same stuff as the rest of creation, are special because of the divine gift of intimate relationship with God.

Yet one serious question remains. Darwin shows me a God creating a world which is dynamic and awe-inspiring in its complexity. But I don’t fully understand why this creativity involves such violence and waste. Perhaps it’s because it is the only way that such a world can be created. Would God work like that? If I see God redeeming through the violence and waste of a man dying on a cross, I can accept that he can work through evolution too.

Recycled wisdom

Take God’s values out of society, and eventually someone will recognise the direct impact and damage it will have. I spotted this article today. I would love to know how independent the survey really was. If it was driven by a Christian group, I would not wonder that the recommendations are so close to what the church tries to do. If it wasn’t, perhaps now is an important time to reconsider how much wisdom we as a society have thrown out. And let us recycle.

Jesus summed up the law by saying that we should ‘Love God’ with every part of our lives and ‘Love our neighbours’. This second act of loving follows naturally. We express our love for God in serving others. We have to be selfless in order to protect and nurture the vulnerable, the young, the old and the unwell.

One of the biggest contributing factors the article cites is family break-up. As a Christian I hold an extremely high view of marriage and family life. I believe strong family life is central to a well-oiled society. With a family you have a place to be yourself. To be the same and different. To challenge in safety. To learn to respect. To celebrate and to repeat daily routines. Family is not new. It is not trendy. It is not cool. But – it prepares people for being part of society. I know many, many people whose families are not together. It is a function of my generation. I have met young offenders who claim never to have known of a working marriage in their experiences. I have many friends with many stories. I am not here to judge, and would never want to. But the report has suggested that society does not want to talk about this.

Why are we so scared of talking about something so important? Is it because there are consequences?

The Good Childhood Inquiry also reports that ‘excessive individualism’ is to blame for many of the problems children face. This is the same individualism Jesus challenges.

We agree that adverts drive greed and envy: we hate greed and envy in others and privately feel guilty that we cannot have all that we want.

Teachers resent the competitive bureaucracy in education. We know that league tables do not tell the whole truth and expect people to tell us the truth: we know that not everyone is going to be a winner. League tables are there to provide information for those who want to try and discern the most advantageous educational route for an individual. Not for others.  

We know that wages are not fair: unfairness stinks. We all want to be treated with dignity and respect by others, including our employers. We want to be fairly rewarded for equal work. We don’t want others to swing the system to their advantage unfairly.

We know children need to play: play requires space and space costs money. But we also want young people off the streets and nurtured by those who know how to get the best out of them and help them through the difficult teenage years.  We would like responsible young adults around us, who we can trust, work with and enjoy time with.

If we want these things, we have to face the fact that we cannot afford to be selfish. We must love others. In doing so, we ultimately benefit ourselves, as part of society.