Roots

[Jesus said] “…a farmer went out to sow. As he sowed, some seeds… fell on rocky ground, where they didn’t have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of earth. When the sun had risen, they were scorched. Because they had no root, they withered away.”

Matthew 13:3,5,6 (WEB)

As a parent, the most important thing I can give my child is roots. This is my God-given role. These roots consist of several things:

  • a loving, stable home
  • treating each child as an individual with unique, God-given talents**
  • encouragement and opportunity to make the most of their talents**
  • an experience of what it means to love both within and without our family
  • an experience of what it means to forgive and be forgiven
  • compassion for those who suffer, whether close at hand or far away
  • knowledge of the Word of God – a peg board on which to hang the ‘keys’ of all the above, providing each key with context, so that as the child grows they have ready-made tools, learned gently and softly through the years.

**As you’ll know if you’ve been reading for any length of time, we have a young man with special needs in our family. He may not ever live independently. He may never get a job. Even if he doesn’t, he is a Hand-crafted human being and has his own gifts and qualities that are worth celebrating. Jesus made sure He always esteemed the vulnerable. We should too.

Can you add any more to the list of ‘roots’? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

‘Mummy, Sometimes I Feel Like Killing Myself’

Frank is away this week in London on business. It’s been a surreal time. I miss him terribly. It’s the longest we’ve ever been apart, but I’m making the most of the time with just me and the children. Also, it has proved the EMDR is working because I am no longer panicking and paranoid when I’m alone in the house. I am coping. Yay!

Anyway, yesterday evening, Fluff was at gymnastics. Chip had lost this privilege earlier in the week through bad behaviour so at 6 o’clock she and I were eating soup with Prince, all nice and calm, like.

“Mummy,” Prince said matter-of-factly while munching toast, “sometimes I feel like I want to kill myself.”

If your child said this to you at the dinner table, how would you react? 

I took it in my stride… we are used to brutal honesty in this house, and we are used to a young man who often says things that are completely unexpected, especially at the dinner table for some reason! He may have autism and learning disabilities, but he’s a very deep thinker (can’t think where he gets that from, can you?). So, despite the seemingly terrible tea time conversation-starter in front of his 9-year-old sister, I asked dear Prince what made him say that. I wasn’t shocked or horrified or… anything, really. I just wanted to understand what he was thinking and why.

“Because sometimes,” Prince replied, “the world just seems like such a horrible place full of horrible things and I don’t want to live in a world like that.”

Bless his beautiful black-and-white thinking. He doesn’t have the social skills to recognise why saying exactly what you think might be socially unacceptable. e.g. when we were in the supermarket and he said, horrified (and within earshot), “Mummy, why does that lady stink?!”

So we had a conversation about a world full of sin and sorrow, and a caring, loving God whose heart was breaking seeing all the misery. We talked about how He sent His Son, who willingly gave Himself to be killed in the most horrible way, to experience for Himself the very worst suffering, so that the bridge between us and God could be mended. Eventually I promised to get him a notebook so that he can write down all of his feelings and show them to his counsellor, whom he sees monthly. Then the conversation took a slightly different turn.

“I’m not sure I want to be a Christian, Mummy.” He said, “I don’t want to be like you and Daddy. It’s too hard. I just want to be able to pray sometimes.”

We talked about love and what happens when God is your friend and constant companion. We talked about how love is the only thing to make a difference in the world, how love is the only thing worth living for, and how God is love. These conversations are always challenging, because Prince’s vocabulary is limited and his comprehension is very literal. I have to keep my language very simple and straightforward, and this is quite difficult!

I thanked God for the opportunity to talk to my son about Jesus on his terms. Church and Sunday School are pitched way over Prince’s head, so he’s never going to learn from there, even if he does recognise that church people are generally kind and friendly to one another. We’ve had some conversations around the dinner table, but that one was a corker.

What about you? Have you ever had stunning questions from your offspring? How have you dealt with it?

Broken

Sometimes I wonder what the point is. Sometimes I look at the world and all I see is brokenness. Sometimes I look at my life and all I see is brokenness. Sure, I see that where many families would have fallen apart, we stayed together and grew in love, flawed as it is. We’ve had our rocky moments but I think, thank God, that my children are going to be ok. They have been through such a lot, but each of them is, I hope, secure in the knowledge that he or she is loved and worthy of love. Each child has hopes and dreams for the future and understands that they have to work to reach those dreams (to a greater or lesser degree). Each child also has a knowledge of God, again to a greater or lesser degree… Prince’s understanding of Christianity is – of necessity – very simple. It boils down to ‘God is love. He teaches us to love. Be kind. Where you have done wrong, say sorry.’

I have a wonderful husband, who gives me more than words can say. I hope I give him what he needs, too. He has been enormously supportive throughout our marriage (we celebrate five years this year!) and even more so these past few months during EMDR. My husband always sees things in me that I never see in myself. He always has. Ours was definitely a match made in heaven.

But then I look at me. I’m nearly 40. I’m still going through therapy. When will my life begin? When will I experience normality? When will I be able to serve God more fully?

So I said to God, “Dear God, how can I be of use to You when I am like this – broken and jagged and anxious and broken and…”

I had hardly begun this (admittedly rather truculent) prayer when into my mind came an image of Christ on the cross. He was weak. He was scorned. Naked. Shamed. Humiliated. Tortured. Nails through his flesh to enhance the suffering. Broken.

“This is my body, broken for you.” The words flashed into my mind as the image changed: Jesus with the disciples, sharing the final meal, speaking the words that would become a gift for His followers.

The image changed again: bread and wine raised aloft as the priest repeats Jesus’ words; words that have echoed through the centuries. “Take, eat. This is my body… Do this in remembrance of me…”

*****

Jesus was broken. I am broken. We are all broken, in different ways. Brokenness is the most remarkable thing about the Gospel. Brokenness was taken down from the cross all crumpled and empty. In grief and sorrow brokenness was carried and laid in a tomb, carefully wrapped in cloth. The shell-shocked stragglers walked away.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Reblog: Results of Almsgiving, Fasting, and Prayer

One thing that strikes me with many revered writers is that the English used in translation is quite complex. I had to look up ‘concupiscible’ and I have a good vocabulary. Yet I don’t think that the writers necessarily intended to be obscure. There are many people for whom the phrasing and vocabulary of such writers just goes too far. It’s beyond their intellectual understanding, but I don’t think that that in itself excludes them from understanding the spirituality, quite the contrary. It’s not as if our intellect can ever be anything but puny compared to God’s!

I had a go at paraphrasing what I thought St. Teresa of Avila was trying to say in a post yesterday, just a couple of paragraphs. I imagined explaining the ideas to my daughters, who are themselves bright girls with vocabulary beyond their years (11 and 9), but the biggest challenge would be to paraphrase it enough so that my son could grasp it, or something like it. He is 15 but has autism and receptive language disorder. His language skills are that of the average 7 year old, at best. He has taught me that good communication is in the ability of the *communicator* to explain a concept as simply as possible. Sometimes, of course, the writing has to be of a certain level, but many times writing is needlessly obscure.

I am glad God gave me my beautiful boy. He teaches me about Himself through my son. The boy has a way of seeing things in black and white, and with an inviolable innocence that is at once challenging and compelling.

Contemplative in the Mud

Almsgiving heals the irascible part of the soul; fasting extinguishes the concupiscible part; and prayer purifies the mind and prepares it for the contemplation of reality.
Saint Maximus the Confessor

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Reblog: When Women Speak, Men Ought to Listen (a guest post for Tim Fall’s blog)

This happens in all arenas, from school to the workplace. Church should be different from the world, not the same. I sat through a service recently and at the end the minister said we were going to watch a video about how God uses ordinary people. The youtube video was about eight to ten biblical characters. It was very slick, as many of these videos are, but it had two flaws, as I saw it: 1. Each person was an ordinary person, yes, but not one of them was called to ordinary things. We don’t remember Joshua’s mate Bob who was perhaps a bit clumsy so he was given the job of counting the sheep, we just remember Joshua. And 2: They were all male! The minister might as well have said you’re no good to God unless you’re male and are called to do something extraordinary. It’s often not even deliberate, but patriarchy (as in ‘men are implicitly better than women’) is alive and well even in denominations where women are allowed to be ordained.
My own opinion on this subject is this: if God has called you to do xyz, then do xyz. If God has not called you to do xyz, then don’t do it. God used unexpected people all the time throughout the bible, young and old, male and female, Jew and gentile, slave and free. Am I called to be submissive to my husband? Yes. Am I to serve my husband? Yes. Is he to submit to me? Yes. Is he, in imitating Christ, to serve me? Yes. Does that not cancel out any complementarian/egalitarian argument? Imho, yes.

I’ve spent my whole life feeling somehow ‘less than’ because of abuse. I felt ‘less than’ because I was female and because I was physically smaller. In my abuse-warped head, might equalled right. Jesus set me free from that destructive thinking and I’m not about to let anyone shackle me again (hallelujah!), nor my special needs son (his innocence and simplicity make him more Christ-like than the rest of us would care to admit) nor my wonderful daughters.
On the other hand, I would also like to see a cultural shift so that instead of denoting traditional women’s roles as ‘less than’, the traditional female roles of nurturing and organising are revered and valued for what they are. Sometimes these receive lip service, but often it is no more than that.

Excellent post!

Laura Droege's blog

Good morning, everyone! 

I’m honored to be writing for Tim Fall‘s blog today. It’s about my struggle with the complementarian doctrine in my new church and how it affects the worship service. But it’s also about my struggle to find a voice, my voice. For so many years, I believed that what I thought didn’t matter, that my gifts didn’t matter, that my opinions, no matter how intelligent or informed, didn’t matter. None of these were worth anything.

Why? Because I wasn’t a man. 

A week ago, I decided to confront the issue. In public. In church. In front of people who would disagree–strongly–with my beliefs. Here’s the story:

The Sunday school hour had just ended, and I sat in the church pew, seething.

After a year-and-a-half of searching, my family has landed in a conservative Presbyterian church. I like it—mostly. No church is perfect. But on this particular…

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EMDR 5: Deja Vu – Haven’t We Been Here Before?

I had my second EMDR session two days ago. It knocked me sideways again, but it’s supposed to. Here we go again. I’m sure I’ve been here before… No wonder I ended up with PTSD.

At many times in the past I’ve managed to keep going by laughing. Adrian Plass’ books saw me through some tough times, radio comedies Just a Minute, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue and The News Quiz have given me something to laugh at when I couldn’t do much else, and my Red Dwarf DVDs have made me smile more times than I can count. I’ve no idea why this is what works for me, but it does. At least, it stops me from climbing into the cupboard and pretending the world doesn’t exist. I can’t do that anyway; I have a family to take care of. I’m glad of that, too, because there have been so many times when, if it weren’t for the children, I’d have given up altogether :-/

Children truly are a gift from God, even when they’re being ‘orrible! They make the world a better place. If adults learned how to be more like children, and more able to laugh at themselves, maybe there wouldn’t be so much anger and sadness in the world.

Our family share meals together at the table every day. Frank and I believe it’s a very important part of family life. Lately at the dinner table the children have been exploring what makes a joke a joke. This is not as simple as it sounds. Prince has autism and Chip may have Asperger’s – we’re trying to get a diagnosis. They’ve both been attempting to extrapolate the components of ‘Doctor, Doctor’ and ‘Knock, Knock’ jokes. This is taking some time because their literal minds just don’t ‘get’ the idea of double-meaning, without which these simple jokes don’t function. I’m not sure you can extrapolate humour… Yesterday our fish pie dinner led to some fishy humour (pun intended).

Fluff: “Why don’t haddock eaters go to church?”

Me: “I don’t know. Why don’t haddock eaters go to church?”

Fluff: “Because they don’t believe in cod!”

Prince smiled, recognising that this was an attempt at humour. He decided to join in.

Prince: “Why don’t cod eaters go to church?”

Me: “I don’t know.”

Prince (with an enormous grin): “Because they don’t believe in salmon!”

He then went through the same thing with a variety of fish, at which point Fluff and I couldn’t help laughing. Prince knew the jokes weren’t funny, but he also knew he was making us laugh, so he carried on. Chip decided to join in.

Chip: “Mummy, is this a joke? Doctor, doctor, I keep getting a headache!”

<pause>

Me: “Go on then – doctor, doctor, I keep getting a headache!”

Chip: “Then go and eat some fish!”

Fluff and I completely collapsed into giggles. I love my kids. They are a real blessing. Laughter is balm for the soul.

Something else that has been keeping my humour meter topped up (and hence helping me not to completely crack up with the bombardment of memories following the EMDR):

Exhale and Lean

I read a very interesting post from Laura Droege this morning. She says ‘I’ve… found that the more open I am about the illness, the less it defines me.’ Laura writes about her battle with mental illness with a tender honesty. There is a real strength in her writing – one that only comes through endurance. It’s a fascinating post, please do click the link.

As for me, I refused for years to admit that there was anything wrong, because as far as I was concerned it was my life that was the problem, not me. Over time, God brought me to a place where I had to face up to the fact that I was not well. I have been on medication for over a year and for the first time in my adult life I am not depressed. As I told my psychologist with whom I’ve just begun therapy, the stupid thing is that I never knew I was depressed until I began taking anti-depressants! I just thought that that was normal because I couldn’t remember life not being horrible. Praise God for medication (and even more for my patient, loving husband) o_O

As I thought more about Laura’s post, I recalled a time, years ago, when I was a teenager. I was receiving treatment at a private hospital that specialised in rehabilitation after serious head injury. One day in the summer, my nurse and I were standing by a window looking at the garden, green and vibrant with colour as only an English garden can be. A butterfly fluttered into view and settled onto the purple flowers. I remember the purple and the green, but I don’t recall what plants they were. Just behind the butterfly was a young man in a motorised wheelchair. We realised he must be paralysed from the neck down because he was controlling the chair with his head. My nurse sighed and tutted as she saw this young man, “Oh,” she exclaimed, “don’t you feel sorry for him!” This was a statement, not a question.

I looked at the man and frowned. “I don’t.” I replied.

My nurse turned towards me, aghast, “You don’t feel sorry for him?!”

“No.” I said, but I couldn’t explain why.

20-something years later and I think that what I instinctively grasped was that people must be endlessly pitying this young man – and to pity him continually deprived him of dignity; instead it somehow defined him by his injuries, rather than as a human being. Christ never saw people as defined by their brokenness, in whatever way that was manifest. On the contrary:

‘Some men came carrying a paralysed man on a bed, and they tried to carry him into the house and put him in front of Jesus. Because of the crowd, however, they could find no way to take him in. So they carried him up on the roof, made an opening in the tiles, and let him down on his bed into the middle of the group in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw how much faith they had, he said to the man, “Your sins are forgiven, my friend.”

The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who speaks such blasphemy! God is the only one who can forgive sins!”

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Why do you think such things? Is it easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? I will prove to you, then, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, pick up your bed, and go home!”

At once the man got up in front of them all, took the bed he had been lying on, and went home, praising God.

Luke 5:18-25 (GNT)

This is also why the debate around the abortion of disabled foetuses is frightening, whatever your views on abortion in general. My son has autism. There is no pre-birth diagnosis for autism. If there were, would women choose (and in some cases, be encouraged by medical professionals) to abort their child, like they do with Down’s Syndrome? Is a disabled child ‘worth’ less than another child? Is their individuality defined by their disability, or by their humanity? What if we could diagnose susceptibility to mental ill health, short-sightedness, asthma or dyslexia? I’m loathe to say it (because often references to these things are made when a person has run out of other arguments) but didn’t the Nazis promote the same thing when they tried to ‘exterminate’ the disabled and the mentally ill? Eugenics: alive and well in the 21st century, disguised as ‘informed choice’.

My son is not autism. He is a fearfully and wonderfully made human being. He is a soul. And in reality we are all broken, in one way or another. Many people spend their whole lives trying to ‘make up’ for their brokenness: think of the cult of celebrity, for example. Many, many people think being ‘famous’ will make them happy, or being famous will make them ‘better’. Wealth is another way people try to fix their brokenness, sometimes they choose to pursue power. None of these things actually work. They may appear to, but all they can ever do is paper over the cracks. They don’t fix the structure. They’re just houses built on sand.

I don’t know if any of us are ever truly ‘fixed’, but we each have a God-given dignity that, when we put our trust in Him, when we recognise the grace given in this blessing of dignity, we are set free from all the lies the world (or our own heads) would have us believe. We don’t have to struggle to fix ourselves. We just have to exhale, and to lean on Him.

‘So Jesus said… If you abide in My word [hold fast to My teachings and live in accordance with them], you are truly My disciples.

And you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.

They answered Him, We… have never been in bondage to anybody. What do You mean by saying, You will be set free?

Jesus answered them, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, Whoever commits and practices sin is the slave of sin.

Now a slave does not remain in a household permanently (forever); the son [of the house] does remain forever.

So if the Son liberates you [makes you free men], then you are really and unquestionably free.’

John 8:31-36 (Amplified)

I wrote about a similar theme in my post ‘Why I am Not a Survivor’. The link is to the right of this page. Thank you for reading. Do you have any thoughts on the subject?

Are We Hypocrites for our Baby Gammy shock?

Very interesting post over at Special Needs Jungle (see here: ‘Are We Hypocrites for our Baby Gammy shock?‘). I wholeheartedly agree – and I have to say I am only thankful that autism cannot be diagnosed prior to birth. The very thought is chilling. Hayley Goleniowska, author of the post above, is right. Eliminating babies with Down’s Syndrome is eugenics. It is no different to the Spartans who left disabled babies to die of exposure. It is no different, though we might kid ourselves that it is, from the Nazi plans to eradicate disability (note: people often use the behaviour of the Nazis to support their argument – I try not to, but here there is a very clear link).

 

‘The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me… the Lord… who formed me in the womb to be his servant…

…Can a woman forget her nursing-child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? 

Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands…’

From Isaiah 49: 1-15 (NRSVA)

 

My son with autism is beautiful, irritating, innocent, lazy, sweet, frustrating, charming… All the things a teenage boy should be, in many ways! Hard work, yes, but I wouldn’t change a hair on his bonny head. His presence in this world is God-breathed. His existence is a gift from God. He is special, in the true meaning of the word. I have learned more about life, about myself, indeed about what it means to be human from my boy than from anyone else, more than anyone can learn from their ‘normal’ child.

 

“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’

Matthew 25:45 (The Message)

 

 

The Prevalence of Autism and Life with Chip

This is a very interesting article from The Economist ‘Why it’s not ‘Rain Woman” which possibly answers the question of why so many more boys are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders than girls. Of course, my readers will know that Prince has autism, but his little sister Chip, although very bright and more socially advanced, still lacks ‘EQ’ (the social/emotional equivalent of IQ, if there were such a thing). She doesn’t understand jokes and misses subtleties of behaviour. On the other hand, so do many men/boys and I perhaps would not notice, or indeed comment on it, if she was a boy. Interesting. What do you think? Have you noticed differences between your non-diagnosed children and their peers? Have you noticed your female non-diagnosed child has certain ‘autistic’ traits? Mind you, as for traits, I definitely have them – and so does Frank! Enjoying one’s own company (aka introversion) is one. On the other hand (lots of hands today, I must be an octopus), what was I saying? Um, on the other hand, Chip is a strange balance of extrovert and introvert. She loves being the centre of attention, she’s a natural performer and says she wants to be an actress when she grows up, but she also loves reading. She gobbles up books and is quite happy entertaining herself. She also does some strange things sometimes. Like the other day, when she broke wind and, instead of saying “pardon me” she said, “Shut up, Marcus!”

 

“Who is Marcus?” I asked, mystified. I thought it must be an imaginary friend.

She broke wind again, “That’s Marcus,” she said, grinning, “my bottom is called Marcus!”

I was rather lost for words. The other two are very polite. This one…

o_O

 

 

Life Goes On

I am struggling a little today. I have been trying to study but my brain keeps going foggy (I’ve started a Statistics course with half the points of my previous course – I’m hoping I’ll be able to cope better with the workload). This morning we were woken around 4am by a series of beeps. Then sometime later another series of beeps. And another, and another. I groaned and pulled the pillow over my head.

In the morning, as Prince is about to leave for school, Frank says, in his patient, gentle way, “Can you please make sure you turn off whatever was beeping last night? Mummy and Daddy don’t want to be woken up at 4 o’clock, thank you.”

Prince stares, in his detached way. “It was my alarm.”

“Yes,” says Frank, “but why was it going off at 4 o’clock in the morning?”

“So that it would wake me up.”

Ask an autistic child a direct question and you’ll get a direct answer…

Frank knows this, so he says, “Yes, but why did you set it for 4 o’clock in the morning?”

“I wanted to get up and be ready for school.” Prince is so s…l…o…w in the mornings. He is always running late, no matter what we do. We are used to it.

“But you got up at ten to eight!”

“I went back to sleep, Daddy!” He sounds pained.

Frank sighs. Prince just looks blank.

I say, “Well done for being up in time for school. Please make sure the alarm doesn’t go off before 7 o’clock. You woke me up.”

Unfortunately, although I can appeal to Prince over waking me up (I am his current favourite, second only to Glorious Grandmother), he wouldn’t bat an eyelid if I accused him of waking anyone else up.

Then comes a knock at the door. “Taxi’s here, Prince!” Chip yells. “And you woke me up last night too! I’m tired now!”

Chip’s life could be written as a series of exclamation marks. She always manages to run into school all higgledy-piggledy. This morning, with toothpaste on her cardigan, her coat hanging off her arm and her specs askew, she looks like she got dressed in a jumble sale in the middle of a hurricane. Just as well she’s charming with it. I don’t know how she manages to charm every single person she meets, but she does.

Prince ignores her and continues calmly, yet deliberately, eating his toast.

“Prince,” I say, the same as I say every morning, “the taxi is here.”

“It’s early. It’s only 8.13.”

I cannot argue this; the kitchen clock does indeed say 08.13. At 08.15 Prince promptly stands up and strides to the front door.

Now it’s time to go.”

I follow, to make sure the door is unlocked. There’s no point trying to reason with him. That only slows him down more.

As he pulls the door behind him Prince calls, “See, Mummy, I’m not banging the door because I’m not cross!”

Hmm… I find myself humming ‘Blessed Be Your Name’ and decide to write a blog post.