Because He Cares…

I wrote a note on my Facebook page the other day as I reflected on the recent Grenfell Tower Fire. My reflection was that the truly terrifying thing about the whole situation was the apathy from those in charge of the tower when concerns had been raised about the safety of the building in the months leading up to the fire.

The residents of that tower were in the vulnerable position of living in a building that wasn’t safe, and their vulnerability and need was met with a lack of care from those who had the power to solve the problem.

And as I watched the tower go up in flames (along with the rest of the world), I felt so upset for those people trapped in the tower. All those people who died because no one cared enough to really listen to them and make the required changes.

It’s a very deep kind of pain you feel when you reach out with your worries or fears, only to be met with silence or to be fobbed off – especially by those who are meant to care for you.

You might not be living in a dangerous situation at the mercy of some corporate body, but perhaps you’ve felt this way before with a parent or friend… Perhaps you have felt the sting of disappointment when someone you thought would care, didn’t.

This morning as I thought over these things, 1 Peter 5:7 came to mind:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

I was really struck by how amazing it is that God actually cares for us and how this should lead us to pray to Him honestly.

Prayer is not some kind of venting ritual, where we get things off our chest and that process makes us feel better.

It’s actually giving our burdens to a real Person, who has real power.

It’s throwing all our worries and fears in front of God, because He cares for us.

That changes everything.

It means we always have someone to turn to with our anxieties and concerns. Someone who will not minimise our feelings or fob us off for something more important.

Of course, God will not always answer in the way we want or expect. But He always hears and He always answers.

When you bring your burdens to God, you will never experience the pain of apathy.

Cast all your anxiety on Him, friends – because He truly does care for you!

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Turning Around a Bad Start to the Day

This morning arrived with a stuffy nose and a pounding head ache. I’ve been suffering through recovering from a head cold for a few days now, and I’m still not quite sure if I’m over the hump yet.

In another life (one without responsibilities, ha) I would have just stayed in bed.

Sometimes I just have an “off” day, whether due to lack of sleep or getting over a cold. It can be easy to just go with that frame of mind, and let the whole day spiral down into a vortex of gloom.

But I usually find that with a bit of self-awareness and some little changes, I can nip that bad mood in the bud and turn the day around. Here’s what I do:

  1. Light a scented candle. My favourite is Watermelon Lemonade. I don’t have any of these at the moment, but I do have a box of supplies waiting to be made into candles! (Anyone want to join me? I keep procrastinating from this task…)
  2. Put on some uplifting music. Lately I have been really enjoying the album “Mighty” by Beckah Shae. Her music is so upbeat, her lyrics are Bible-based and she has seriously good hair:
  3. Write my thoughts out to God in my prayer journal. Ask for His joy and peace.
  4. Go outside and sit in the sun. This is especially lovely now as it is winter here. The birds are out, the air is crisp and the sun on my back is delightful!
  5. Run around or wrestle with the kids. Their little giggles are infectious!
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  6. Do some colouring in – I like to colour in Bible verse pages and then hang them around the house.
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  7. Have a cup of coffee. I like to have my coffee first thing, before anyone else wakes up, while I read my Bible. Some mornings (like today) I press the snooze button so I don’t have time for my coffee before school drop off. So when I do get to have my coffee, I try to take the time to really savour it. Something about coffee just makes the whole day go better.
  8. Do something productive. Could be making something simple or tidying a long-overlooked area of the house. But I find getting one productive thing done at the start of the day can make me feel good about my acheivement and have a cascade effect on the rest of the day.

These ideas are quite simplistic, but they work for me (most of the time). How to you turn a bad mood around?

Going to Church with Little Kids

Strategies and suggestions to help things go more smoothly.


Before we had kids, my experience of church was involved, but fairly laid back. We would arrive 5-10 beforehand, chat to some friends and then find a pew somewhere around the middle to front region. When it came time to sing, we would stand and sing. And when it was time for the sermon, we would sit and listen. I always enjoyed taking notes – writing down verse references to look up later or phrases that stood out to me. Or even having a good old doodle to keep my mind from wandering. Then, when the service finished, we would turn around and have a chat to whoever was in the pew behind us or catch some friends. All before leaving when we were good and ready.

Ahhh.

Don’t you feel so relaxed reading that?

Because going to church after you have kids is a little different…

Now, we tend to arrive on time (yay!) or 5-10 minutes late (better late than never, so… yay!). We find a seat towards the back of the hall, in order to minimise disruptions to everyone else during one of the 50 million times we will get out of our seats. During songs, we spend about half the time singing the words, and half the time whispering to an inquisitive child what the song is about or telling a child to face the front or disseminating snacks. The two older kids go out to Kids Church during the sermon, but we keep the baby in with us and let him crawl around in the general area in front of our seats. I’m lucky if I can hear an entire sermon these days, let alone process what has been said. And how long we stay at the end of church is determined by the battery life, I mean tiredness, of the youngest members of our family.

So if you’re in a place where going to church just seems too hard or you’re thinking about giving it up, let me encourage you to keep going! Keep trying!

And maybe some of these practical tips will help you out… (And please add your own helpful tips if you’ve “been there, done that”!)

 

Babies

  • When you arrive at a new church or before your baby arrives at your current church, take a moment to suss out a place where you can change a nappy and a place where you can go if the baby gets too loud. Ask the person at the front door if you can’t find somewhere suitable. It’s best to find these places at the start, otherwise when your baby starts crying in the middle of the service, you might get flustered and just leave!
  • When breastfeeding, I prefer to sit at the back of the church. I find that people can’t see much from the front of me, but they might “catch a glimpse” if they are sitting behind and to the side. So sitting right at the back of the church provides the most comfortable place for me to feed. (Our old church – pictured below – had two big red lounges at the back of the church specifically for nursing mothers. It was fantastic!)
  • When our babies were little, we always tried to line up one of their naps to be during the service. We would either put them down to nap in the pram or with one of us using the baby carrier. This often involved one of us going outside or into the hallway until the baby fell asleep. Sometimes this worked well, other times they would either not fall asleep at all or they would fall asleep, but wake up immediately upon entering the church hall again. Which leads me to the next point…
  • Have a plan, but be prepared to go with the flow. Babies often run on their own schedule (and sometimes that lines up with ours). It’s okay for them to miss the odd nap (provided they don’t just scream until the next nap). It’s okay for them to have a shorter nap than usual on one day of the week so that you can make it to church. Our kids never napped for longer than about 30 minutes in the pram or carrier, so we just accepted that they would need the next nap to be a bit sooner.
  • Don’t feel like you need to rush out of the church hall every time your baby makes a noise. There are happy noises and there are not so happy noises, and both of these can be equally disruptive to the church service. We tend to wait a minute or two to see if the baby settles down, and if they keep being loud, one of us will take the baby into the back room (where Kids Church meets) or into the hallway to the side of the church. We have just accepted that we will miss parts of the church service for the time being. It’s just a season – not forever.

 

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What screaming baby? I can’t hear any screaming baby…

Toddlers and Preschoolers

I’m lumping these two together because there is a fair bit of over lap.

  • Scout out the location of the toilets and somewhere you can take the child for “time out” if they need it. Like I mentioned with babies, it’s best to find these locations before you sit down so you know exactly where to go, should the need arise.
  • Bring snacks. We still bring snacks for our 5 year old, but I’m sure that will stop some time over the next year. I pack a little bag of things like crackers, raisins and nuts and give them to the kids right at the start of church. Morning tea is provided at the end of the service, but that’s too long for them to wait when they have eaten breakfast at 7-7.30, and church starts at 10. (Actually, bringing snacks applies for older babies too!)
  • Explain to them what is happening and your expectations. It might seem like they don’t understand, but they will eventually. Use simple phrases like, “Now we are talking to God. We close our eyes to help us concentrate”, “Now we’re singing a song about God – we read the words from the screen” and “Now it’s time to be quiet and listen to the person speaking at the front”. Over time and with consistency, they will learn what happens in church and how they should behave. (But it won’t be instant!)
  • In the school holidays, when the Kids Church program takes a break, our church hands out colouring sheets and pencils for all the kids to do during the sermon. We also bring along a sticker book each for the older kids, as we find this helps them to stay quieter during the sermon. It might mean we don’t actually hear much – we are busy holding the book steady and peeling off stickers and finding the right page for them to go on, but this is more for the benefit of others around us – so they can hear the sermon.

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Some Bible verses for reflection

“Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”” Matthew 19:14

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.Hebrews 10:24-25

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:21-27


 

What strategies have worked for you? What hasn’t worked? I’d love to hear from you!

Mothers and Sons

I came across this music video the other day, by Christian hip-hop artist, NF.

And through tears, I watched as he told the true story of his mother’s addiction to drugs, her death by overdose and the impact on this young man’s heart.

You know how some songs just reach deep inside your chest, grab you by the heart and don’t let go? Yeah.

Here are some of the lyrics:

They say pain is a prison, let me out of my cell

You say you proud of me, but you don’t know me that well

Sit in my room, tears running down my face and I yell

Into my pillowcases, you say you coming to get us

Then call ’em a minute later just to tell us you not, I’m humiliated

I’m in a room with a parent that I don’t barely know

Some lady in the corner watching us, while she taking notes

I don’t get it mom, don’t you want to watch your babies grow?

I guess that pills are more important, all you have to say is no

But you won’t do it will you? You gon’ keep popping ’til those pills kill you

I know you gone but I can still feel you

Wow, it makes me teary just reading the lyrics again.

 

 

Recently I watched the controversial (for it’s take on suicide) series 13 Reasons Why.

There were many “moments” that got to me from that series, but one in particular centred on the character Justin. (Spoiler Alert)

He lives with his single mother, but is often kicked out by her on-and-off boyfriend, who doesn’t like Justin. I think his mother struggles with mental health issues and alcoholism.

There is this one scene towards the end of the series where the boyfriend has Justin up against the wall, holding onto his throat, telling Justin to get out of his (the boyfriend’s) house. Justin’s Mum is standing off to the side, watching. Justin looks over at her and pleads, “Mum?” But she does nothing.
Then the boyfriend lets Justin get down. He grabs his bag and runs out of the house, wiping back the tears.

As I watched that scene, my Mumma heart just wanted to reach out and hold that big little boy. To reassure him that he was loved. That someone had his back.

 

 

I’m still only early on in this motherhood journey. I’m in the “sowing” stage, not yet at the “reaping” stage.

But I know that our young boys need us, Mums. They need us in a distinct and important way – different, but no less important to how they need their Dads.

I know they need us to sow into their lives love and security and warmth.

I know they need to see what a healthy relationship looks like.

I know they need to see that we don’t put inanimate objects before them (whether that be pills or phones or anything else).

And ultimately, they need us to introduce them to Jesus. The ultimate source of love and security.

Mothers – myself included – we only get to raise each child once. Let’s not mess this up.

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Middle child and I when he was a gorgeous chubby baby. Photo credit: http://www.sophietphotography.com

Here’s a fantastic resource about raising boys, from a Mum who is older and wiser and further along than me: http://jessconnell.com/25-tips-moms-boys/

I Am Thankful…

I am thankful for…

  • The crystal coat of frost on the grass in the mornings.
  • Cold air and warm coats.
  • Three tiny tickly bodies.
  • A new friend, baking up a storm and laughing in the kitchen.
  • The peacefulness of the house at nap time.
  • Little arms reaching up.
  • The warm arms of my husband around me in the night.
  • The subtle citrus candle that makes my house smell clean.
  • Thoughtful conversations with a five-year-old.
  • The tree with red leaves that haven’t yet fallen.
  • The anticipation of exciting things to come (a catch up with a good friend, a date with my husband and a weekend getaway with my family).
  • The pink glow of the sunset across the sky.
  • The feeling of a full tummy.

 

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. In this season, I am thankful for all He has given.

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The Danger of Discipline

As the middle of the year draws closer, I’ve been reflecting on my goals and my focus for the year. This year I decided to make goals with a focus on one “theme word” – discipline.

And it has turned out to be a highly relevant word for me this year.

When each of my babies have turned one, I’ve found life enters a new stage. A more predictable, rhythmic stage.

The other day I got house work done for about 20 minutes while T crawled around the house, finding things to play with.

That is quite a feat, let me tell you! And it’s quite different to the newborn stage, where you can’t really put them down and every minute is sucked into a vortex of activity.

I mean, a mobile baby brings a different kind of busy. I’m cleaning up more messes, for example.

The other day I sent my husband this picture (of his side of the bed), with the message “This was the cost of doing the dishes today”:

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Mmm, tasty bin tissues – good for the immune system, right?

(I did then clean it up, but I often like to share little things from my day with my husband while he is at work – the good, the bad and the hilarious!)

But as I enter this season of having a baby who is more able to entertain himself for little chunks of time, it is a season that requires greater discipline because there is a temptation to slack off.

And what I am finding as I work to apply discipline across the various areas of my life is that discipline breeds discipline. It is addictive.

I guess you could call it “habit-forming”, which in the early stages requires repetition and consistency.

I’m particularly enjoying the fruits of applying discipline to my eating habits and exercise. The result is that I have more energy, I feel good and I am actually looking forward to exercising.

Some days I have to push myself to make it happen, or pull myself away from bad food choices (that’s the discipline part). But most days, it’s not a hard choice. The more I eat healthy food, the more my body craves it. The more I exercise, the more my body wants to move.

I find this to be the case across the other areas of my life where I am becoming more disciplined as well.

But then the thoughts start to creep in… “Hey, I’m really nailing this!”, “Wow, I’m really good at this discipline thing!” or the more subtle, “My hard work is starting to pay off.”

The problem with these thoughts is that they are rooted in pride.

The more my thoughts turn towards how well I am doing, the more they turn away from how dependent I am on God’s grace.

You might think, “Well, if you’re doing well on your own, why can’t you acknowledge that? Maybe that means you aren’t dependent on God’s grace?”

And that might be true for a while. I might have a good run in being disciplined and making good choices, and seeing results, but ultimately my own strength and personal resolve will fail.

It would be like saying, “Wow, that’s a beautiful rose! It’s doing such a great job of growing and looking lovely!” while ignoring the whole bush, roots, soil and sun that all worked to make the rose beautiful.

My dependence on God is the reality. My personal discipline is the result.

To believe that I can get the result of discipline without the reality that I am dependent on God is to believe a lie.

Ultimately, this is the danger of discipline – that we set up good habits for ourselves and it fools us into thinking that we can achieve anything in our own strength, that we are pretty good people and we don’t really need God.

Colossians 2:20-23 warns about these dangers:

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

 

I am speaking here about self-discipline, of course. But I think this also applies to disciplining our kids.

Of course kids need to be taught obedience and morals.

But we need to be so careful that in teaching them to do what is right and flee from what is wrong, we don’t set them up to pridefully think they are good people.

I was raised in a loving Christian family, and I was taught how to obey God from a very young age. But unfortunately, this also grew a heart of pride in me.

Even when I copped grief from other kids at school and I didn’t quite fit in, I held onto this attitude that at least I was doing the right thing.

And don’t get me wrong – it’s good to love doing what is right!

Psalm 119:97 says:

Oh how I love your law!
    It is my meditation all the day.

But following God’s law won’t save you.

And when I was a child, I never really had a sense that I needed to be saved. I knew the rules. I followed the rules. And I thought that made everything okay.

(I mean, I knew Jesus had saved me – I just didn’t think I really needed it.)

It wasn’t until some events in my late teens that I truly realised how much I needed grace, and that I really couldn’t make it to heaven on my own (I might tell you the long story of that another day!).

This is an ongoing struggle for me. The struggle of falling back into rule-following and a prideful heart.

So even as I pursue greater discipline in my life, I need to be ever-mindful that it is only through God’s grace that I can make lasting changes. And it is only through God’s grace that I am saved.

It’s a change in posture from a standing tall, “you go girl” kind of self-discipline to a kneeling down, “God, please change my heart” kind of self-discipline.

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Our olive harvest the other day.

 

 

 

He would have left me by now…

… if our marriage was based on how well we keep our vows.

I was thinking the other day about some of the things we promised each other on our wedding day, so I went and looked them up:

I, Blake, before God, family and friends receive you, Jessica, as my wife.

I promise to faithfully love and cherish you, to nurture you spiritually and provide for you, for better or for worse, in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health, loving you sacrificially as Christ loves the Church.

I promise to be united with you in serving God, our family and others as long as we both shall live.

I will not depend on my own thoughts and emotions, but will ask for God’s help in fulfilling these promises each and every day.

 

I, Jessica, before God, family and friends receive you, Blake, as my husband.

I promise to faithfully love and respect you, to strengthen you spiritually and care for you, for better or for worse, in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health, submitting to you joyfully as the Church submits to Christ.

I promise to be united with you in serving God, our family and others as long as we both shall live.

I will not depend on my own thoughts and emotions, but will ask for God’s help in fulfilling these promises each and every day.

Yes, there’s no way either of us have kept those promises perfectly in our marriage.

I still remember when we wrote them together during our engagement –  sitting in that darkened Thai restaurant, hashing out exactly what we wanted our marriage to be about.

It’s hard, when you’re young and idealistic, to know all the twists and turns that you will encounter along the journey of marriage. But maybe that’s a good thing. Because if we knew, would we want to promise these things at all?

If we knew about chronic illnesses that can turn your beloved into a shell of a person for years on end, would we promise to stay with them in sickness and in health?

If we knew about the times when a husband’s requests seem impossible, would we promise to submit to them?

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Maybe someone more cynical would think – why even write vows if you aren’t going to stick to them?

And I wonder if that’s what the many young people who are shunning marriage these days are thinking – that they don’t want to make promises they will just break later. They don’t see the point of “committing”, when they know it is an empty commitment.

 

But there is a bigger story here. Because marriage is not primarily about our faithfulness to our vows or to each other. If that were it marriage would not be such a great story after all.

Humans mess up. We sin against each other, even those we love. We break our promises. We hurt each other.

Don’t misunderstand me here – there is so much great stuff about marriage! There is the friendship, the intimacy, creating a family together, the in-jokes, the warmth and service, and more.

But still… if that was all marriage was, why even write vows? Why commit at all? For the piece of paper? For the rings?

 

No, the bigger story here is about God’s faithfulness to the church He loves. It’s about the deep love of Jesus that lead him to the cross and his resurrection to take his rightful place as Head of the church. It’s about His bride – the Church – enjoying the warmth and protection of that Headship, and the restored relationship between the two.

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This is what drives our commitment to each other. This is what gets us through the rough patches. This is what keeps our eyes on the road – OUR road – instead of glancing at the greener pastures surrounding us. This is what keeps us from building a nice little idol out of our marriage.

The story of marriage is bigger than us.