About Me

I am a Christian mother of five, and our highest goal as a family is to serve God in every aspect of our lives. Jesus promised His disciples 'life in all its abundance' (John 10:10) - that has been our story, a rich life, not devoid of challenges, but certainly abundant. Previously writing at www.homeeducationnovice.blogspot.com, we have come to realise that education is just one area where our faith shapes our choices and direction in life. This blog seeks to share our adventure.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

A new blog www.anabundantadventure.blogspot.com

Three years ago, with a baby and two two-year olds, we had made the decision to home educate our family. I was aware this decision might bring challenges, and that it was important to remain faithful to our convictions and to draw from the wisdom and resources of others. So we launched www.homeeducationnovice.blogspot.com. For three years I have posted here, at least once a week and this site will remain - hopefully the archive will continue to challenge and encourage, and I will respond to comments. However I have increasingly come to realise that our decision to home educated is simply one element of our life of faith – desiring to live for Christ in all things, and not follow the pattern of the world. Whilst home education will remain a major part of our lives for the foreseeable future, I have increasingly wanted to write about the life of faith – about global mission, about serving God as a family, about hospitality and relationships, about Christians in secular leadership roles, about financial priorities, about Christian marriage, family life and spiritual growth. So on the third anniversary of homeeducationnovice, I am launching An Abundant Adventure (www.anabundantadventure.blogspot.com)

When describing Himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus promised ‘I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly’ (John 10:10). An abundant life is not necessarily an easy life – elsewhere it is described as entering ‘by the narrow gate’ (Matthew 7:13). However the twenty two years I have been following the Lord Jesus have certainly been abundant, and never more so since embarking on parenthood seven years ago.


It is my prayer that you find the new blog inspiring, challenging, comforting, refreshing and encouraging.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Are you content?

'Now godliness with contentment is great gain' 1 Timothy 6:6

Are you content? 

What does it mean to be content? 

I think many of the problems that our society faces arise from discontent. People want more, and better, education, healthcare, housing, benefits, pensions, employment, leisure, tax credits and public services. And they want these things now. (We are on the eve of  General Election here in the UK, but don't worry, I am not going to delve into politics tonight)

The Puritan writers had plenty of wisdom on this - I would recommend Jeremiah Burrows' 'The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment' (link is to full PDF of this challenging book). A lot is in the title. It is:

1) Rare, even among Christians
2) Worth as much as (or indeed far more than!) a precious jewel, and
3) Christian contentment differs from the feeling of general wellbeing that an unbeliever may experience when all is well.

It might be better to phrase my opening question the other way round:

What makes you discontent?

In my life, it is often closely linked to covetousness. Dictionary definitions of covetousness vary, as 'to covet' can be taken to mean to earnestly desire something, and that is not always bad. However, more often it is used to describe a 'wrongful or inordinate desire, without due regard for the rights of others'. Covetousness  is described and warned against in the Bible through both direct commandment and also through illustrative stories of those who ultimately come to grief though their covetous desires. When Moses was given the 10 commandments, the final one stated 'You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s' (Exodus 20:17)

Why is covetousness such a bad thing? It introduces discontent, and tells the lie that God's provision in your life is not sufficient. This opens the door to many wrong attitudes and actions. Ten examples of where sin can enter through covetousness are listed here (but you may think of more!)

1) Questioning the nature of God. Either denying His sovereignty, or denying His goodness
2) Lack of faith. If God is either not sovereign, or not good, how can I trust Him in future?
3) Lack of thankfulness - failing to see the good things that God has blessed you with
4) Lack of service - my two loaves and five small fish seem inadequate for the task
5) Lack of generosity - others have more than me, so they should give
6) Lack of hospitality - my house seems small, and others have several spare rooms
7) Lack of joy - I don't recognise that God's plans for my life are perfect
8) Lack of peace - questioning whether I need to change something fundamental in my life
9) Lack of perspective - it can be easier to look at those who have more, rather than less
10) Lack of love - my eyes are now on myself and my 'needs' not on others

Why am I writing this tonight? In response to a challenge in my own life. Last night I attended a Bible study at the new home of a friend. It was large, beautiful, tastefully decorated and incredibly tidy. The kitchen was incredible, like something out of an Ideal Home magazine. I knew I might feel this way, but I was taken a little by surprise at the myriad of churning thoughts that went through my mind.

THOUGHT: Life would be so much more orderly in a spacious home.
TRUTH: Life would be almost exactly the same, just with more housework needed

THOUGHT: Their lives must be so perfect  (or certainly less chaotic than ours) to be able to settle down
TRUTH: Actually buying a larger home can bring its own snares. We have financial freedom to travel, move overseas, live with fewer worldly constraints through our choices of where we live. And a building, however nice, cannot solve life's problems

THOUGHT: Their children must be really well behaved, well discplined, focussed and achieve everything set before them (rather than spending the best part of a morning to settle down and do some basic reading and writing, as we have done for the past couple of days)
TRUTH: What a completely illogical thought! Why should a particular size or style of home improve behaviour? Their children, just like ours, are sinners who need to come to an understanding of the grace of God, and also of their need for God's strength to overcome their sinful natures.

THOUGHT: We could have much better Bible studies and offer much better hospitality in a large and beautiful home
TRUTH: We've been having regular Christian meetings and hosting guests (both known to us and strangers) for the last 15 years. That there are five of us living in a three bedroom house does not prevent us being able to open our doors and share. Similarly, our friends believe God has given them their new home to be used by God (and hence last night's meeting was at theirs, as we are trying to hand over the things which had previously taken place at our house prior to moving overseas in a few months).

THOUGHT: It would be much better for homeschooling to have all that space
TRUTH: Homeschooling can take place anywhere, and the main locations in the house are reading on the sofa or sitting at our large dining table. This would be the same in a bigger home. Actually a lot of our life and schooling takes place outside anyway - in parks, museums, beaches, art galleries, home ed meet ups and so forth

THOUGHT: It would be good for the boys to have more space to play
TRUTH: It's good for the boys to learn to live closely together. They also need to learn that what we have is enormous compared to most children in the world, as indeed many families live in a single room or very basic accommodation. They need to learn that relationships are more important than things

THOUGHT: Maybe we are a little crazy to make the choices we do, when we could 'afford' to move somewhere bigger and more luxurious
TRUTH: This one is key. Our choices have been shaped by God's leading and guiding over the past 20 years. Our choice of home is only one example of how we have felt God calling us to have a loose hold on this world, to live as strangers here and respond to His call to serve Him in a range of roles, short, medium and potentially long term in low-resource countries. Yes, we could afford the same kind of home - but that is not the life we have been called to, at least not at this current time.

THOUGHT: My family would be happier if I had a home like that
TRUTH: That may be true! My family (rather than my in-laws) are not Christians and wish we would 'settle down' and do the conventional life thing. But that isn't something to aspire to!

The reason I write out some of my internal conversation is because a lot of how we respond is a choice. We can choose to be content. The Apostle Paul said it beautifully when he wrote:

'I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in wantI can do all this through him who gives me strength.' Philippians 4:12-13


Sunday, 3 May 2015

Discipline and Behaviour: Applying the Bible

Two big advantages of home education are:

1) By constantly being with the children, you are able to identify and seek to correct behaviours and attitudes before these are able to develop into bigger problems

2) We can frequently draw from the Bible, which we believe to be 'God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work' (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

There are times when this does not always feel like an advantage! There are days when it feels that we spend so long working on these issues that we don't have as much time as we would like for all the educational activities we would like. There are occasions when I find myself wondering whether the children would therefore be better off in a mainstream educational establishment where there would not be so much time spent on character formation. However it does not take me long to recognise the illogical thought processes of a tired parent. It is precisely because of the days where boundaries are pushed and the boys ask for answers, explanations and sometimes just seem to be testing everything, that a parent with a Bible in hand is best equipped to speak into the situation for the highest good of the child.

Let me give a couple of illustrations from recent weeks:

1) Lying. It has been quite shocking to us, but all three of the boys have told lies recently, and have often tried to blame their brothers for their own misdemeanours. They have a good appreciation of who God is and that He is holy. Therefore often to bring conviction and confession of what truly happened, one of the key things we need to do is show the boys from the Bible just what God thinks about lying. For example:

Proverbs 6:16-19. 'There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community'. The idea that their actions are hateful to God is very shocking to the boys.

On other occasions, Hebrews 4:13 is helpful: 'Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account'. They realise that God sees and knows everything, and so that even if they are able to deceive mum and dad, they cannot hide the truth from God. That also often brings conviction.

2) Blaming others for personal sin. Along with lying comes the excuses that are made for misbehaviour: 'my brother made me do it', 'he gave it to me', 'he was doing it so I just did the same' and so on. Then I often turn to Genesis Chapter 3. The story is well known. God created the heavens and the earth, the animals and the birds and the beautiful garden of Eden and all was very good. God created Adam, and then from his rib made a 'helper suitable for him', Eve. However they were given free choice, and the one thing they were forbidden to do, to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they did. Of course they could not hide this from God, who asked 'Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?' The man said, 'The woman you put here with me - she gave me some fruit of the tree, and I ate it'. Then the Lord God said to the woman, 'What is this you have done?' The woman said. 'The serpent deceived me, and I ate'. The consequences are well known. The lesson I teach the boys here is that each one of us is accountable before God, and even if another person deceived you or otherwise led you astray, we are still responsible for our own actions. 

3) Selfishness. All children display this - arguing over toys, wanting to be the first one to have their book of choice, wanting the yellow cup and plate (for some reason this seems to be the favourite at the moment), wanting to sit on one of our knees (I can manage two on my knee, but all three becomes tricky!) Here, I try to show them how Jesus was our perfect example - there are many many passages of the Bible that could be used here, either specific verses or illustrative stories. I always love Philippians 2: 'Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross!'

4) Sloppiness. When the boys are really engrossed in a task, they can put a large amount of time and effort into the details. We have particularly noticed this with the drawings of our eldest, and have enjoyed watching his style develop. However, there are other times when they seem content to rush through a task they don't enjoy so much, in order to get on to the 'more fun' things. We have to remind them that there are some things which are simply quite hard work and need practice - reading and writing for example. Colossians 3:23-24 speaks into this: 'Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.'

5) Unkindness. I think together with many parents, we frequently draw from Galatians 5:22: 'But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law'. But sometimes that can seem a little abstract. I find it can be more helpful to find an example of a story where somebody displayed the attribute or quality I am trying to teach the children about. Examples might be the parable of the Good Samaritan - where the Samaritan found the wounded Jew on the road and went the extra mile in terms of caring for him, slowing down his own journey, spending money on him (without the hope of having this repayed) and treating him as he himself would have wanted to be treated. Jesus said, 'in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets' Matthew 7:12.

These are just five examples which immediately spring to mind. These type of 'Bible studies' are daily occurrences in our household. On other occasions, I use the Bible to bring comfort in the face of discouragement or strength in the face of weariness (very often I am reading a passage like Isaiah 40 to them for my own benefit more than theirs, as I am feeling exhausted - but I like to explain to them what I am doing, why I have chosen that part of the Bible for the morning reading, how I then use it to pray and so forth). The Bible gives us hope when we feel that the circumstances in the world around us are so desperate (I am writing one week after the earthquake in Nepal, and after several recent reports of hundreds of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean. There is a humanitarian crisis in Syria, and several of my friends continue to work hard in the Ebola-striken regions of West Africa. The boys are starting to ask questions about things they hear on the radio, and rather than shield them from the harsh realities of life, we aim to provide a biblical lens for their understanding).We use the Bible for thanksgiving. For prioritisation. In praying for others. It is the most loved and read book in our home.

As a parent, I continue to be challenged that:

1) I must know my Bible well. If I am to be able to help the boys use it as a double-edged sword in the diverse circumstances of life, I need to listen to the Apostle Paul as he wrote to Timothy: 'Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth'. 2 Timothy 2:15. The more I am familiar with the stories and understand their application, the more I will be able to naturally apply it into our daily lives

2) My relationship with God must be fresh and living. The boys see me turn to God in weariness or in discouragement. I talk to them about how I pray, and how I use the Bible. These cannot be theoretical conversations, but rather my relationship with God should reflect to them some of the beauty of being known and loved by God.

How have you been able to use the Bible in the face of challenges this week?



Monday, 20 April 2015

Treasure

This morning something happened that I am sure has many hidden lessons.

I've mentioned elsewhere that my boys are fascinated by ancient history. The eldest (now nearly 6) is confident he wants to be an archaeologist. Everywhere he goes, he finds 'treasure'. Often this is old pieces of wire, broken pieces of pottery, but to him, these are precious and evidence of previous civilisations that capture his imagination. Recently they learnt about Pompeii, and also about some Biblical archaeology which relatively recently has verified things from the Bible which had been questioned by some historians. On a long road trip last week, we listened to an audiobook about pirates, and of course there was hidden treasure there too.

Whilst scrabbling about in some dirt in Dorset my other 5 year old produced a small coin, about the size of a penny. It just looked like a penny or indeed nothing at all. However, we took it home. We had noticed a slightly irregular margin and wondered whether it could actually be an ancient coin, but it was only this morning as we cleaned it up a little more and inspected it with a magnifying glass that we saw the writing Henri and realised it was a gold 'angel coin' from the era of Henry VIII. It is actually genuine treasure, which just confirms to the boys that there is treasure everywhere.

This was all very exciting, and much of the rest of the day was spent looking at coins, learning about the history of money, of hammered coins, of different currencies and uses in different cultures. Even as adults, there was just that sense of excitement that we had found treasure.

Jesus spoke of 'childlike faith' several times. Now, this did not refer to worldly things such as finding buried treasure (indeed the Bible warns against treasure on earth, reminding us that 'where your treasure is, there your heart will be also'). But there is something about the innocence of childhood that they do not believe anything to be impossible. They take things literally, and if the Bible says it to be true, it must be true. They don't have any difficulty with Jesus healing the sick, raising the dead, walking on water, calming the storm - because they know that He was God and of course He could do these amazing things. Of course He hears and answers our prayers. They have a beautiful acceptance in their faith that adults so often lack. We tend to look at the facts, at the circumstances, at what we think we 'know'. The children simply accept, believe and expect great things.

As adults it is very easy to dismiss their comments. A couple of years ago in autumn, as we strolled through a very familiar park, one of the 3 year olds said, 'Look at those apples' and our immediate response was, 'Don't be silly, there are no apple trees here'. But of course, they were apples and we went on to find half a dozen wild apple trees in that same park, and each autumn have foraged plenty. Even now I have a spiced apple cake baking in the oven made out of apple puree from last year.

As parents home educating our children we must be so careful not to quash their innocent questioning and not to dismiss comments that sounds off the wall, because they just might be right. For our boys, I think the fascination with ancient history has been firmly consolidated now, and I don't imagine they will ever forget the day that they genuinely found treasure. Or maybe they are simply thinking, 'of course there was treasure, there is treasure everywhere'. Maybe its the parents who will never forget!

Whatever is happening this week, I hope you are able to take the time to be challenged by and to learn from your children!

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Worldschooling

Until last week, I had never heard the word 'worldschooling' until I came across this ironically entitled blog post: '10 ways worldschooling has ruined my childhood'.It was an enjoyable and challenging read, written by a sixteen year old girl whose childhood has been on the road with her three brothers and parents who make a living by freelance IT-based work. Her mother actually develops curricula and resources for like-minded families and has a parallel blog here. And you know how it is with blog perusing, one click leads to another and quickly it is possible to amass much information (and for me, often much inspiration).

Our family has a similar philosophy in many respects, although we do not live simply to travel. Through our work, we often move around for courses, conferences and periods of time (weeks through to years) in different countries. Wherever possible we travel as a family, and embrace the educational opportunities that the different countries and cultures present. The boys seem to thrive on this, and do have a very global perspective - it is not unusual for them to have friends who do not speak much English, or to be part of a group of children from many different countries.

One of the blog posts I read was on just how it is possible for a family to be able to live in a way which allows 'worldschooling' - many of these are principles I share:

1) Live simply. A lot of what is seen as essential in our (when I say 'our' I am referring to our life in urban Britain) culture is actually not necessary at all. Never before has society been so materialistic. There are constant messages that life would be better or easier with some product or other. If you are frequently on the move, you cannot become too attached to things. When we travel in the UK, if not using public transport, we drive a small Renault (not a 'people carrier'). People sometimes ask how we manage this, but actually it is a blessing - we are forced to consider what we really need, and to travel without clutter.

2) Eat simply and seasonally. We cook everything from scratch and one of our first tasks in a new place is to find the market and find any local seasonal produce to sample. I say it often, but I believe through cooking and experimenting with ingredients and flavours, the children learn many useful skills - from literacy and numeracy, through to science, art, technology and hospitality. It is also a lot cheaper this way! Sometimes other families comment to us that their children would refuse to eat this kind of food. For us, it has never been an option - from infancy if they do not finish something on their plate, we don't give them an alternative.

3) Recognise that education is a life. Things are learnt so much better through practical experience and engagement of all the senses than through being 'taught' about them. Often it doesn't feel like 'school' or feel like learning, but that is one of the great beauties of all home education, but perhaps worldschooling in particular.

4) Having a close family unit - when you live and travel in close proximity to one another, any disagreements need to be dealt with quickly. I would be lying if I said my boys always got along in perfect harmony; they do not! But we deal with things quickly. At home, they share a bedroom. There are occasions when I see a short term benefit in separating them, but the longer term benefit of being able to share a room, share a bed if need be, being able to sleep just about anywhere is huge.

These are just a few thoughts. This month we have been on the move again, and as well as on the move, have experienced weather from snow two weeks ago through to glorious summer sunshine today. We've learnt a lot of geology - from the incredible limestone formations in the Yorkshire Dales, through to the incredible rock formations and fossils of the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. We've been to the largest iron age hill fort in the country, to a Norman castle on the coast, and to two well-preserved castles which have taught us much about how people used to live in different ages. As we have moved from place to place, there has been a continual stream of questions and much soaking up of information. I increasingly appreciate that our choices regarding education are simply a logical step from the worldview and priorities that we share. It has been interesting to read how others have taken home education on the move to a much more extreme level - I don't think our family would do this (although perhaps a road trip from Europe to sub-Saharan Africa is a possibility) but it's been fun to read!

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Preparing for Easter

Do you ever find it interesting that in many countries, there is a long 'advent' period and build up to Christmas, whereas Easter just sort of happens? My boys pointed this out to me after Christmas, when we completed a timeline based on the Jesse Tree project. They asked to do a 'life of Jesus' timeline leading up to Easter, and so for the past 40 days we have been working through it every morning.

We've enjoyed doing this, but it has been more challenging than the Jesse Tree, for several reasons:

1) The Jesse Tree tended to focus on clear stories of people who were in the genealogy of Christ. It is quite easy for young children to visualise some of these stories, or to have at least a superficial understanding of who people were, where they had come from, the key events of the story (and possibly how they fitted into the genealogy of Christ - my eldest seemed to understand this more than I expected).

2) In the Life of Jesus, I have tried to focus on actual physical events (such as miracles, having his feet anointed, finding a coin in the mouth of a fish, events surrounding his betrayal, arrest and trial) rather than on teachings, fulfilled prophecies or other aspects which are important but might seem more nebulous to a child. However, even so, there have been some parts they have found very tricky indeed! For example, John Chapter 3, and the story of Nicodemus going to Jesus at night. They have no problems with Nicodemus going out under cover of darkness, and they quite liked that part. But Jesus' teaching, so familiar to most of us adults, was quite difficult for them. What does it mean to be 'born of flesh and born of spirit'? What does it mean to be 'born again'? Also, Jesus uses irony: 'Can a man enter again into his mother's womb?' - but the boys don't yet appreciate irony and how keep asking whether they could go back into my tummy, and what that would be like!

3) It challenges me because we try to use the whole of Scripture and not to present 'child-friendly' or diluted versions. The reason for this is that there have been many occasions where we have been stunned by their accurate understanding of areas of our faith that many older people really struggle with. It is very much the 'childlike faith' that Jesus commends. In fact, we have found presenting a simplified story, or missing out on some of the less pleasant aspects (such as in the story of Noah, the fact that most people who were alive at that time would have died in the flood) just tends to cause more confusion.

4) It is delightful to hear their questions and see them trying to bring it all together. We try to provide them with the tools - the Bible in its fullness, a listening and patient parent available to answer many questions and provide clarifications, other resources, books and stories, biographies of believers, sometimes Bible cartoons - to enable them to do so. So perhaps the fact there have been some days when the questions have seemed unending is evidence of them grappling with the most important truths. So perhaps I should rather be rejoicing that the timeline project has stimulated them to think and weigh things up.

Tonight my five year old wrote a hymn on a piece of paper and secretly brought it upstairs so he could sing it to us at bedtime. It went 'God is good all the time. He is amazing. He died on the cross to save us from our sins', and had a slightly undulating tune. But it was great to hear his spontaneous song of praise. Over the past week my youngest, who has just turned three, has also started to sing these 'new songs'.

The boys are asking for the next Christmas timeline, and whether or not we can do timelines in Africa. There is something about the pictorial representation of the stories that builds up day after day until it is complete that really captivates them, and I'm pleased we have found something which can be a simple family tradition.

How do you keep Christ central at Easter in your family?

Sunday, 22 March 2015

5 Encouragements

This blog has several purposes. One is to discuss and share resources and ideas relating to home education, particularly Christian home education. A second is to be a more personal reflection of the challenges and the joys that are encountered - with the aim of encouraging others in what can be an amazing adventure, but also at times a lonely and less travelled road. Thirdly, when life is busy (as it tends to become for all of us) I find it helpful to stop and reflect - to reassess priorities, to celebrate progress, to set goals and to learn and gain encouragement from others. This is one reason why I tend to blog on a Sunday evening - it is a helpful discipline for me to pause and consider.

This week has brought encouragement from several sources. In no particular order....

1) Today we invited some students who had recently started attending our church for Sunday lunch. Two of them had been home educated. It was encouraging for us to see young adults who have been home educated, and I think encouraging for them to enter a home which reminded them of their own childhood. Sunday lunch at our house is not often peaceful. My husband is an excellent cook, and there is always an interesting variety of food, but there is noise, mess and then a walk in a nearby park. I used to feel a bit ashamed of not having a model house. However, over the years I have come to realise that what people in our society lack most of all is a welcoming family home. For these students, I think they felt very at home, and I hope left refreshed and encouraged!

2) Earlier in the week I was introduced to a family who work as Bible translators in an area which is not all that safe for Christians. They are enjoying a short furlough in here, and it is also the first visit to the UK of their toddler son, with whom they are in the process of adoption. Again, it was so refreshing to meet with others who live with their greatest priority being the Kingdom of God. I have noticed that sometimes, once children are on the scene, even well meaning Christians can subtly (or not so subtly) undermine attempts to live sacrificially. Risk taking is seen as negligent, rather than a bold step of faith. I've written more about this recently. The Bible speaks of the importance of choosing our companions wisely. We are taught to be 'in the world but not of the world'. 'Do not be decieved: Bad company corrupts good character' (1 Cor 15:33) - sometimes it is not the really obviously bad company that I find such a challenge (it can be relatively easy to avoid this), but rather the lukewarm, compromising, worldly Christian company. Proverbs 27:17 reads 'as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens the countenance of his friend' - as Christians we can challenge, exhort and encourage one another to walk along the narrow path. That does not always need to involve 'deep and meaningful' conversations; for me, sometimes it is simply spending company with those whose priorities are clearly not of this world.

3) On Wednesday we took our two five year olds to a concert (Peer Gynt by Grieg, then Sibelius then Tchaikovsky). My more restless son was utterly transfixed - I don't think I have ever seen him so still or quiet. This reminded me that children all have their own interests and strengths, and that we shouldn't stereotype them into boxes. (It was also an advantage of home education that we had no issues with them being out until 22:30 on a 'school' night).

4) Yesterday we enjoyed a long hike (well, long if you are three years old - 7 Km and 450 metres of altitude) with a family who also have three boys. For me, one of the greatest pleasures is being outside in the fresh air. We can enjoy the beauty of God's creation and all the small hassles of day to day life can just be forgotten about for a time. We have been very blessed to meet other families with similar attitudes and interests, because for quite a long time we felt very strange for spending so much time out of doors! It is also encouraging when you see other parents who have similar standards of discipline, and who will appropriately reprimand their children should the need arise. I  would make similar comments to those under item number 2 above - that often we can encourage one another simply through sharing our lives together. This is an important point - one of the challenges my Christians friends have made regarding home education is that I would not have enough time for 'ministry' - and often that refers to spending one on one time with younger Christians or those in need, perhaps reading the Bible together or working through a Christian book. I would agree that I don't have the ability to do those things during this season of life. but I do think a whole set of new opportunities open up. I was really persuaded of this during several months in a West African village.

5) And relating to that point, we for a walk by the river with a couple of home educating families that we know from the local group. A friend of mine who is a student was having a tough day, and so we invited her along. It was probably the best thing for her - to be outside with eight young children enjoying the early spring sunshine, fresh air, building sandcastles, getting muddy and just enjoying some freedom. In fact, she told me afterwards that this was more encouraging and helpful than it would have been to sit down and talk about the things that were on her mind.

So in summary, this week has reminded me of several things:

1) The importance of living first and foremost for the Kingdom of God, and of modelling that to our children

2) The joy of Christian fellowship, and how we can encourage one another through sharing our lives as much as through our words

3) That our children are intrinsic to our Christian lives and service, and have a vital role in ministering to others. We do them a great disservice if we ever consider them an inconvenience or to be 'getting in the way'

4) That our children continue to surprise us with their learning styles and aptitudes - that it is not right to try and define them too precisely (yes, I know understanding a little about learning styles can be helpful, but I am meaning that we should not put them into boxes).

How have you been encouraged this week?


Sunday, 15 March 2015

Challenge of the week

So this Sunday evening we've enjoyed some time off together. Sunday is the only day that we don't work (unless we are on the rota for clinical duties, because of course patients still become acutely unwell on the Sabbath, and the Bible is quite clear that if there is a pressing need - the example given is if your sheep were to fall into a ditch on the Sabbath - that it is OK to work). It probably warrants a separate post at another time, because even this evening we were talking about how few people seem to have a correct Biblical understanding of the Sabbath, and how rather than being a rule or ritual, God provides it for our benefit and freedom.

Anyway, at the time of day when I would usual be blogging, we were sitting by the fire talking about our hopes, dreams and expectations. These last six months have been a little crazy for a range of reasons, and the next few months may be unusual was we both settle into new job patterns whilst preparing for another major move. Tonight seemed like the first time in months that we had just sat and talked. It was a real blessing and encouragement.

I don't blog a lot about marriage, but a friend of mine, Jess Connell does. I would highly recommend her blog as she discusses a lot of issues that Christian women need to consider, but which are not always discussed in churches and ladies' meetings. I really enjoyed one of her posts this week, on the opposite of the Titus 2 woman. Her argument is that often you understand something best when you consider the exact opposite of what is being said. So read this post, and be challenged. I certainly was!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

God's compassion for the weary

Lately, I have felt tired. Well, to be honest, it has felt a bit more than just tired, more like exhausted. There have been days when my head has felt like being in a fog, where I have been taking part in conversations and not really feeling fully engaged and attentive, and sometimes I have just longed for sleep. I think we all feel this way at times, whether we have children or not, whether our children are young or older; sometimes it is just part of being in a fallen world. In Genesis 3, after the fall of man, God's curse to Adam was that his toil would increase and that by 'the sweat of your brow you will eat your food'; simply living in this fallen world would become tiring and painful.

However, God is compassionate and gracious.

'He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.' Isaiah 40 verse 11

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”' Matthew 11:28-30

These verses both show how God knows the pressures we may face, and particularly mentions how He is gentle with those who have young. He knows what this season of life can be like. He knows that there will be days when simply getting through the day can feel like a real challenge.

I take great comfort in that! If you feel worn out this Sunday evening, I encourage you to stop and rest before the God who knows exactly how you are feeling.

Hebrews 4:14-16: 'Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.'

Jesus was fully God, but He was also fully human. He knew fatigue, loneliness, hunger, rejection, physical pain, grief, temptation and frustration - there are examples of all of these in the Bible that we can learn from. However you are feeling right now - perhaps you may be tempted to compromise, or to question whether the choices you have made are really worth the hard work - look to Jesus. Hebrews 12:1-3: '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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.'

I think we can also learn a lot from the story of Martha and Mary. Particularly when under pressure, I become more like Martha - there seem to be so many things that need doing, in all areas of life, that my tendency is to make more and more lists, to get busier and busier, until eventually I snap (either collapse with exhaustion, become paralysed with feeling overwhelmed, or become emotional over small things). 

Luke 10:38-42 tells the story: 'As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary,who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”  “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Whatever is going on in your life - whether you are thriving on the bustling activity, or feeling overwhelmed and close to breaking, take the example of Mary and choose the one things which is best.

And on that note, I'll go and find refreshment in the only place where it can really be found.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Global Mission - A Task for the Whole Family

On Friday night, we were asked to lead a seminar of about 30 people on global mission - we were asked in particular to talk about how some of this is possible (and not only possible, but a great opportunity) with young children. 

When considering what to cover, we decided to let the people attending set the agenda. Sitting around four tables, they created a list of what they might consider 'barriers' to overseas mission - the things that would make them reluctant to go. The list they produced as almost exactly as we anticipated, and we then went through each point in turn, looking both at the Bible, and also our own experiences of serving God overseas. Much of it may have relevance to the readers of this blog, so I will summarise the discussion here.

1) Health. 
This is often top of the list. What would you do if you became seriously unwell overseas? Are there not loads of incurable tropical illnesses? How do you manage without good access to healthcare? Of course the precise answers will depend on exactly where you are and what you are doing, and also might vary depending on whether you have any pre-existing health problems to consider. But we need to remember that God is sovereign - Psalm 139 states 'All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be'; in fact, these words are engraved on my daughter's grave. God already knows what illnesses will occur. When considering risk, there tends to be an assumption that there is no risk involved in staying at home; this is a very simplistic and naive view, because illness or accident could occur at any point. This piece written by a doctor regarding response to the Ebola epidemic makes this point well. Furthermore, I believe health is one of the greatest idols of our current generation. Let me ask you, what proportion of prayer requests at your church are relating to health issues as compared to spiritual issues? Who is to say that God cannot use illness, even death, for His glory. I do not make this point lightly. When our daughter was born, we prayed that God would use her life greatly. We had many ideas and dreams about what that might look like, but we certainly did not expect that it would be through a cardiac arrest at nine weeks of age, evacuation to a South African city where we had never been and knew nobody, and death from brain injury six weeks later. However, through that time I do not think I have known greater spiritual blessing despite the human anguish. Nearby Christians heard of our situation and rallied around - we were welcomed to live with a family with five children. We were lent a car. When we could not change money, gifts were given at just the right time. But more than that amazing physical and practical provision, the gospel was clearly preached. We knew 'the peace of God that surpasses understanding' (Philippians 4:6-7). We knew a 'hope that does not disappoint us' (Romans 5:5). We knew the absolute certain reality of heaven, and that 'our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.' and that 'what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.' (2 Corinthians 4:16-17). Through conversation and many emails, we were able to clearly describe this hope and confidence to others, many of who did not know God. And at both her funeral and her memorial service, the churches were packed with people we had been praying for for many years. Even now, seven years later, people tell me of how her life impacted on their faith. Yes I look back with sadness, but without questioning that God's plan here was bigger than I had imagined. 

For us, having walked through this, we know that whatever happens, God does not change. Our next child had malaria aged seven months, but recovered quickly. Our next son had some life-threatening infections and at one point was close to death - but went on to make a full recovery. In each of these situations, we have known God's comfort and strength.

2) Children
Often children and health go together - and I can only advise people to be prayerful and seek wisdom here. For example, it may well be better (if resources make it possible) to give birth in a country which has reasonable medical services. In my last pregnancy, I was admitted to hospital eight times and had I been overseas, I would have needed to return home. But many of my other thoughts regarding health are discussed above.

The second major issue with children is education. And along with education, socialisation. I believe this too to be an idol of our current generation, and I think there is a lot of misunderstanding as to what constitutes a 'good' education and what real-life 'socialisation' might actually look like. Again, I never want to be dogmatic and suggest there is a 'one size fits all' solution; that would be naive, and it is worth noting that the Bible does not speak specifically on this area. Rather we are giving guiding principles. I would encourage parents to consider what the most important thing is for their children. What are the most important lessons? I would encourage them to be creative in embracing the opportunities which present themselves in daily life - these are different, but often extremely rich in cross-cultural settings. There are many different options - for us, home education currently fulfils our goals for our children, but one could also consider local pre-schools  and schools (with the advantages of learning local language and culture) - perhaps with top-up lessons at home. Or for those who are uneasy, it might be helpful to consider a very structured home education curriculum that closely follows the national curriculum of ones home country. I would challenge parents to think outside the box, to talk to several other families who had travelled with young children and to spend time considering resources and materials. Some (ie Sonlight) have been specifically developed with the missionary family in mind.

3) Finances
A huge challenge can be the need to raise appropriate financial support - and the amount required does tend to increase as the family grows. Taking the lead from pioneer missionary Hudson Taylor, many mission organisations have a 'by faith' policy, whereby missionaries must never ask specifically for finances (unless direct questions are asked of them). This has a clear Biblical precedent, but can seem intimidating to many. Again, this comes down to trust in God. I know many testimonies of those who have been down to their last penny when a donation has arrived (the story of George Mueller is particularly inspiring in this respect). Or of clinics which have run low on essential materials, only to receive an anonymous package, just in time. You might say that God has never provided for you in that way. But have you ever been in that position of need? With finance (and indeed many other resources, such as stamina, strength, faith, wisdom) God does not often give you a 'bank account' full, so that you can look to the future and see that you have accumulated enough for your hour of need! However, He does know all that is needed. Consider the model prayer of Christ: 'Give us today our daily bread' - He knows what we need, although it is important to comment that this may differ from all that we want! Read the beautiful words in Matthew 6: 25-33: '“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.'

4) Language, culture, loneliness, isolation
(And specific things, like 'lack of clean toilets' and 'lack of privacy')
These are real issues, and again, I think it would be naive to say that they are not. I do not know any overseas mission workers who have not struggled with these things at some time or other. Psalm 37 says 'Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart'. Sometimes we think that if we have a strong desire to work in a particular area, then that must be a selfish rather than God-given desire. But that is not how God works! Often He gives a specific skill or vocation to be used for His glory - that is our story, and although we have worked in Africa with a mission organisation, a lot of our work has been in secular institutes, using our clinical, research and teaching skills. God is a loving Father, not an authoritarian taskmaster. Rather,“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!' (Matthew 7:9-11) . God knows that work will be tough at times, and gives us the resources to cope in such situations. I have heard many examples of people who have been poor at languages being able to learn quickly when there was a need; this is not invariable - there are times when it proves too difficult. Advice can be taken on this - there do exist language aptitude tests which mission organisations can use to help place candidates in appropriate countries. Regarding culture-shock, this is an almost universal process of adapting to change. The stages are well described, from the initial 'honeymoon period' where everything seems exotic and fascinating, through to the disillusionment and frustration that comes after several months before (hopefully) reaching a new state of equilibrium. There are also then problems of 'reverse culture shock' on return home, and for some (I'd put ourselves into this category) we never really feel 'at home' on this earth again. This can be both good and bad, depending on how you view it!

5) Lack of a Specific 'Calling'
I think great confusion can arise at this point. What does one require as a 'calling'? It may be that you know somebody who has always clearly felt directed to serve God in a specific way in a specific place. You may know another person who clearly felt 'called' to quit their job, and do something radically different in a far corner of the earth. But I believe that both of these are less common. How does God speak? How does God guide? There are many books, sermons and other resources on this topic! (Briefly - through the Bible, prayer, Christian friendships and counsel, circumstances, desires, dreams - and yes, also at times through the supernatural). But I would say that the Bible is clear on a couple of principles: Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20). And in the words of the Apostle Paul, ' for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:13-15). Many other passages speak of stewardship of our resources, and serving God with our heart, soul, mind and strength. This means using all that we have to reach out to others with the good news of salvation. The prophet Micah said, 'He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8). Often, putting all of this into practice will involve using our God-given skills in the hardest, neediest, most spiritually dark places on earth. And that is global mission.

6) More specific questions on training - Bible training, skills needed, courses required
These sometimes come up among the first questions asked, but I have put these towards the end for a reason. I believe that if you are being obedient to God, then He will guide you and direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6). By the time you are seriously considering going, the specific place and task may have become clear - and if so, then the specific requirements may well be more apparent now than at the start. As mentioned above, it is highly possible that God has given you a skill or vocation already - medicine (and related fields), teaching, IT, building, project management, accountancy, art, music and many others - that God can use. Or it may be that your role is in church planting ministry - but even here, no skill you have will go to waste!

And if it really is not the right time......

God is sovereign and He guides through our circumstances too. It might be that illness, caring responsibilities, other pressures and challenges mean it is not possible for you to seriously consider going overseas to serve God at this point in your life. But you can certainly be involved in Global Mission - and if (as many readers of this blog are) you are educating your children, this is an ideal time for them also to learn. Get old of Operation World (or the children's version). Read stories of missionaries. Watch video clips teaching on global missions. Pray together. Write to missionaries that you support (and if your church does not support missionaries, ask why not!). Get a map of the world and put it on the wall where the children can reach it - show them the journeys which were made by early missionaries. Mark where 'your' missionaries are. Read the Acts of the Apostles. And you will be encouraged by the childlike passion with which these concepts are embraced.