18 Summers

There is a meme around the mommy blogosphere that says we have 18 summers with our children before they fly the nest. For the most part this is true. My son is 16. It occurs to me that I will get more than 18 summers with my dear boy, because with autism he will need our help for longer. In fact, we don’t know if he will ever be truly independent because of the nature of his disability. I know Frank and I will have to push for independence of some kind, perhaps supported housing, for Prince, who very much wants to be independent, because we’re not getting any younger and won’t be around forever. But still I reckon I have received not a youngster with tragic disabilities (which is what some people automatically think of any kind of disability) but a blessing in the form of an innately innocent, deep-thinking young man who by his very nature needs someone to take care of him. This is not a burden. This is a mama’s blessing.

I ONCE WAS LOST BUT NOW AM FOUND; WAS BLIND BUT NOW I SEE

I LOVE the story from the gospel of John of the healing of the man who was blind from birth. The unnamed man has such a simplicity and purity of spirit, even when faced with the ‘important’ men and their clever questioning. I’m quite certain Jesus loved this about him too! But what struck me in listening to this story are the words at the very beginning:

As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, “Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but, that the works of God might be revealed in him…”

John 9:1-3 (WEB)

Jesus’ words, often overlooked because of the rest of the amazing story, are vitally important. We can add nothing to our salvation, nor can we take it away. Even if we follow all the ‘rules’ and worship God, it doesn’t mean our lives will be ok (often rendered as ‘blessed’ but I would question this definition of ‘blessed’ – post on this subject to follow). If we don’t follow the rules, it doesn’t mean our lives will be miserable. This is false teaching, although one that is easy to fall into. I fell into this trap myself a few years ago, thinking that if I did everything ‘right’ then life would be ok. Hurrah! No more bad stuff! God quickly and sharply brought me out of that one.

We latch onto ‘if only I can do it right’ because we’re scared and we want to be in control. Some people spend their whole lives trying to discover what ‘the rules’ are because they think if they follow the rules, everything will be ok, which really means ‘if I follow the rules, I’ll stay in control’. Life is scary. It is not under our control and we can’t do anything to make it under our control. Only yesterday my dear son told me of the death of a boy at school who was only a year older than him. The young man had been fit and healthy until September last year. Now he’s gone. I pray for his family.

Conversely, the most difficult lesson to learn for me (as for many people who have been abused) was that I didn’t do anything to cause any of it. I am not a freak. I am not ‘different’ in some indefinable way. I was not destined for abuse. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with me. God has been gently, carefully and lovingly bringing me out of that one.

God did not and does not cause the bad stuff, although He did allow it to happen. That God allows abuse and evil is a difficult doctrine to swallow, but when we love God, when we become part of His family, God can and does use our suffering for His glory – and it is a truly awesome thing to be a vessel for the glory of God. If I have known what it is to be unloved, to believe myself horrible and worthless and unlovable, how much more is the effect when I realise that not only am I lovable, but that I am loved by the Creator of the universe? And when I do see how much He loves me, what can I do but offer my life, my whole self in return?

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been brought to your knees in despair by your own sin, or whether it has been the sins of others, or a combination of the two: when you’re at your lowest is when God can bless you the most.

Less me = more God:

“You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill can’t be hidden.”

Matthew 5:14

Hallelujah: Hebrew for YIPPEE!**

**It’s not really, literally ‘yippee’, of course. Literally, ‘hallelujah’ means ‘praise God!

‘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?

Reblog – Context swap: helping others to see how their attitude offends

Something Laura wrote in the post below niggled me and has stayed with me the past few days. It coincided with certain news articles, particularly surrounding the Rotherham abuse ‘scandal’ and the mention of former ‘national treasure’ convicted paedophile Rolf Harris. I finally put my finger on what it was:

When someone is convicted of a sexual offence, and then you casually or otherwise remark that you ‘don’t believe it’, you imply that victims are at fault. Even if this is not what you mean, if you insist that you can’t believe that a person could do such heinous acts, you disrespect – no, you dehumanise and degrade – victims and former victims like me. These crimes leave a legacy that lasts a lifetime. Anyone who would rather look the other way than look at the awful truth head on is, in essence, spitting in my face, and the faces of those like me. Spitting in the faces of those vulnerable young girls in Rotherham. They were children, for God’s sake. And that is the politest way of saying it.

We have an appallingly low conviction rate for sexual crime in the UK. An estimated 85% of sexual violence goes unreported. Of those that are reported to the police, only 7% result in conviction. That means that 1% of sexual crime results in conviction. I’d say it’s a pervert’s paradise, especially when police and social services look the other way (which is what happened to me, too).

Also, whenever anyone says that a rape or sexual assault victim ‘must be lying’, this is incredibly offensive. The reality is that very few people invent stories of sexual violence. On the contrary, ‘in March 2013, the Crown Prosecution Service published a survey confirming that false rape reports are ‘very rare’ and suggesting they could make up less than 1% of all reports.’ 

source Rape Crisis

Abusers abuse and rapists rape and molesters molest and all of them blame the victim. That’s how they get away with it! So many times I was made to feel as if everything I experienced, including sexual, emotional and physical abuse, were my fault, both overtly by the abuser, and less overtly by the fact that no one did anything (except my parents, who did all they could under the circumstances). The abuse tore our family to shreds. No bomb could have blown us apart any better. We are still picking up the pieces, all these years later. I thank God that we can. I thank God that it is indeed true what Paul writes in his letter to the church at Corinth (paraphrased rather movingly by Eugene Peterson):

…no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything [except abuse]
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies.

1 Corinthians 13:3-8

My thanks go to Laura, for prompting this. It’s been cathartic. Any thoughts from any of my readers?

Laura Droege's blog

Recently, controversial Christian preacher Douglas Wilson took issue with women who disagreed with him. (You can read a fuller version of the story on Tim Fall’s blog and several others.) He called them pushy broads, twinkies in tight tops, or waifs with manga eyes.

I’m not interested in discussing Wilson’s views; others do a much better job of pointing out what is wrong with his theology and attitudes. Nor do I feel the need to talk about what’s offensive about these particular terms; I’m assuming that my regular blog readers already agree that the terms are sexist and racist.

Here’s what interests me: If another person has a sexist attitude or uses a sexist term and doesn’t understand why it’s offensive, how do we help him (or her) understand?

(This isn’t limited to gender matters, of course. This applies to race and sexual orientation, too.)

For someone like…

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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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Reblog: The Weight of Judgment

Wonderful post.
Jesus said (Matt 7:1-3, John 8:7) if I want to judge others I must point the same accusing finger at myself. I know for sure I don’t want to do that; I have far too much to ask forgiveness for. I live only by the grace He has gifted.
Not judging doesn’t mean I ignore, or am deliberately unperceptive to, the sins of others (a head-in-the-sand attitude is what has led to so many travesties, esp. in abuse cases). Not judging others means being aware of the nature of love and of the nature of evil, and of rooting out, by grace, the seeds of evil in myself, so that the seeds of love blossom and bear good fruit (and so that evil is less able to disguise itself as ‘good’).
God didn’t ask me to be accountable for the sins of others, but I am accountable for myself – and judging is God’s business, not mine. Don’t get me wrong, I still catch myself thinking judgemental thoughts from time to time, but I’m learning to recognise them for what they are and to give them what they deserve – inattention. This applies backwards, too, for those of us who would over-accuse ourselves. To feel guilty over things beyond our control is wrong, and hence a ‘sin’. If God doesn’t point the finger at me for something, who am I to point it at myself?

Some beautiful words from Paul’s letter to the Galatians (who were presumably experiencing problems in this area and wanted his advice on how to address it):

‘My friends,if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbour’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads… Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.’

Galatians 6:1-7 (NRSVA)

A Pastor's Thoughts

The old men used to say, “there is nothing worse than passing judgment.”

They said of Abba Macarius that he became as it is written a god upon earth, because just as God protects the world, so   Abba Macarius would cover the faults that he saw as though he did not see them, and those which he heard as though he did not hear them.

——sayings of the desert

judgment1Some may think that the monk’s way of handling the faults of others is pure denial. I find that idea very realistic, but allow me to add a few layers to this saying on judgment. How much time do you spend agonizing over the faults of others? Do you use the faults of others as an excuse for your own bad behavior? Would admonishing others bring you any closer to God?

A wise person once said, “Become the change you want…

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Teaching Your Child about Jesus: What Not to Do…

We were running very late on Friday with dinner because we were making homemade scone base pizzas and we didn’t even start until we’d got back from the pool. The pool doesn’t open until half five and Prince* was soooooo slow getting changed afterwards that by the time we got home it was seven o’clock. Little Chip was still eating when I decided to go ahead and begin lighting the candles on the advent wreath and reading Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. Conveniently, the advent wreath was in situ in the dining room.

“Today’s reading is,” I began, and then I looked at my daughter, who was pushing food around her plate making a face instead of eating it. I gave her ‘the look’ and she stopped. I cleared my throat.

“Today’s reading is…” She started it again. “Chip, eat your pizza!”

I suddenly realised what I had said and we all collapsed into giggles.

*Yes, we actually now have a young man who will get in the pool, ‘swim’ a little and get himself showered and changed afterwards. This is nothing short of a miracle!

“Will You Be My Friend?”

It’s a week since we moved into a new area and a lovely new house, and today Prince and I visited the local special school. With its muted colour scheme, low-stimulant environment, multi-sensory room with aromatherapy, twinkly lights and music, plus hydrotherapy pool for the use of all pupils, it’s not the first time I’ve thought that I could benefit from such a place!

When we entered what will be Prince’s class, a boy immediately walked up to him, stood far too close,  gave him an intense eye-to-eye gaze and said, “Hello. I’m Lenny. Will you be my friend?”

Prince was quite pleased by this response to his mere presence. His face broke into a bashful smile and he gave a quiet but emphatic nod. Then Lenny came up to me, stood far too close, gazed at me intensely and said, “When he comes, do you think he will be my very good friend?”

I replied in the affirmative.

Autism. Sometimes it’s beautiful.

“…whoever welcomes in my name

one such child as this,

welcomes me.”

Matthew 18:5