The God Perspective

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It’s midnight and I’m filled with fear. Tossing and turning, I’ve reluctantly given up any hope of sleep and, herbal tea in tow, I’m facing the mountain that’s just too big to climb. The part-time teaching job that starts on Thursday is especially scary, the need to arrange specialist childcare, the committee responsibilities, the endless church groups, the novel I’m desperate to finish, the blog posts I need to write. The list feels endless especially in this season of uncertainty that I’m currently in. The way feels steep, rocky and unstable underfoot. My mountain is so high, it appears to be blocking out the light and shrouding me in shadows. Yet, as I trudge through the muddiness of my mind, mulling over these anxieties, I realise I do actually have choices.

Perhaps I can turn my back on everything, bail out, give up but then I’d be letting others down, including my children, husband and myself. To abandon everything doesn’t seem very plausible and anyway, I’d probably just build another mountain; equally impossible and intimidating. Picture2

 

Or maybe I can muddle along, feeling inadequate and very much dismayed by this Everest. Drag myself through the daily grind, constantly worrying, working late, consumed by anxiety and dread. It’s probable I’d eventually reach the summit but to what cost? Weary, joyless, snappy, friendless (who wants to be around someone like that?) or worse, ill.

To be honest I’m not too keen on my choices so far but perhaps there is a third. Shouldn’t I look at this differently? Get a real perspective on all of this? Ask those age-old questions such as: what is my purpose in life? – Why am I here? – What’s my reason for getting up in the morning? (And it’s not just because the alarm clock has gone off.) As I start to ponder these questions, I’m reminded that to live in the fleshy, practical way of going about my day; ticking off lists, measuring my success by what I’ve achieved, well, that’s only half living. I pull myself up, amazed that, yet again, I’ve forgotten – I’m a faith-filled Christian! I’m not meant to climb mountains by myself! I’m looking at this mountain all wrong. I need to stand where God is standing. God of the impossible, God of all creation, God of love, God, who gives me true perspective. So, I do. I’m standing right by his side with his arm holding me tight. Aha! Already, that looks better! I’m far away enough now, that I can reach out, palm up and hold this mountain in my hand. It’s not so big and the shadows have gone. I’m getting the God perspective.

 

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My Homeless Brothers and Sisters

I’ve recently moved to Lincoln; a beautiful city with its cobbled streets, independent coffee houses, trendy eateries all nestled in the shadow of the awe-inspiring Cathedral and august castle. But dotted around this impressive landscape are the signs of hardship and poverty. Some drug-induced and alcohol soaked, others hopeless and resigned. First, I was shocked at the sheer number of homeless people living on our streets but, slowly, I realise I’m becoming immune. I flash an apologetic smile and walk past as they reach out a hand asking for small change. A small bullet of guilt stabs at my gut but this is quickly diluted by a mixture of fear (What might happen if I get involved), judgement (For goodness sake – there are charities that can help you – get up and sort it out) and selfishness (I’m busy and I don’t want to stop walking, thank you very much) and then I feel ashamed.

 

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit recently, and a few months ago did get involved with my church – helping with clothes bank and chatting with the street people over a cup of tea. But listening to their stories was quite overwhelming, and I felt so inadequate. How can I help these people out of their murky mires? Every time I made a suggestion, they had a reason for it not working, and, in the end, it was easier not to listen. There were plenty of people available to sort out the clothes bank, and anyway, we could only give clothes to people who were referred to us by Social Services. My contribution felt pretty fruitless and, believing my excuses to be both relevant and genuine, I stopped going.

But God won’t let me forget them.

Yesterday I had a gloomy day (One of my black dog days – I get a few of them). After sending the children off on an outing with their dad, I tucked myself into my duvet and watched a film. When I feel like this I tend to go for one of those really awful American Christian films with mediocre acting, and a cheesy storyline. I’m not ashamed to admit I love these films. They have the ability to make me feel closer to God. Anyway, this film was called Hiding in Plain Sight and was about a faith-filled middle-class family (two adults and two children) who had fallen on hard times and found themselves living out of a car for six months. The dad was a university graduate, an IT specialist who’d been made redundant. His wife’s respect and trust in her husband never wavered, (I struggled to believe that one) and the two children went to school each day and slept in the car by night. The little boy stole other children’s lunches because he was so hungry. Entertaining, yes but surely exaggerated – this does not happen to middle-class families in the land of milk and honey!

I don’t know why, but after the film had finished I googled ‘American families living out of their cars’ and couldn’t believe the truth. Not only did this happen but it is actually quite common. Well-educated, poverty-stricken families hiding in cars, trying to protect their children from being taken from them, one adult staying awake to keep watch. I couldn’t believe it! There are even a number of charities set up – one called Dreams for Change, who work with organisations to offer their carparks to families living in such conditions. They are safe in these carparks at night and the Dreams for Change help these families to get back to work and into proper accommodation. There are so many articles reporting on this problem from New York Times 2006 to The Guardian Dec 2017

The land of `milk and Honey is flawed and the system is one-sided. Thank God, I tell myself, things are not so bad in England. Not so bad but still pretty bad, and could it be we are moving in the same direction? More and more cuts are being made, and it is the vulnerable that suffer. Yes, I can point the finger at the homeless and justify my exclamations of ‘Sort yourself out! Find work! Stop smoking! Stop gambling! Quit that drug habit!’ But who am I to judge? Who am I to say they should be able to help themselves?

So, what does Jesus expect me to do about it? 

He expects me to take the slack. To help even in the smallest way from putting a packet of cornflakes into the food bank at Tesco to placing a hot cup of Costa into the hands of the freezing homeless man sitting in a doorway. I can help with clothes or food bank through my church or volunteer with one of the homeless charities such as the Nomad Trust or Shelter. I can do a lot or a little but above all, I must never stop seeing the homeless people as my brothers and sisters. Yes, they’ve hit hard times – whether they’re alcoholics, drug addicts, whether it’s their own fault or it purely accidental, whether they are in this country illegally or legally – I do not judge, I do not assume. I reach out in love. Even if it’s just a smile and a few kind words.

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A Reason to Read

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It’s 8am and my nine-year old is reading a book. I enjoy that tiny frisson of mother’s pride before casting my mind back to Foundation II and the memorable classroom scene. Ah, yes, I remember it well. The gentle nudge from a neighbouring mum, “How’s Bo’s reading? Any joy?” I began to answer but that kind voice continued, “My Emily is on ORT stage 3. I really don’t know where she get’s it from.” Cue tinkling laugh.

The truth is, despite having no hope of winning, I did not enter into the ‘my child is better at reading than yours competition’ because deep down, I knew Bo would be OK. He liked stories too much. Rather than force my son to read books before he was ready, we shared books together. We read everything from Noah’s Ark to Postman Pat; from Facts about Dinosaurs to Enid Blyton’s Wishing Chair; from Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine to The Guinness Book of Records. Despite Bo’s lack of reading ability, he loved books and it didn’t take too long before he was ready to learn to read for himself.

However, as he progressed through the various stages, he began to lose his momentum, struggling to summon the motivation to even take his book from his school bag, let alone read it. I asked him why he didn’t want to read. “It’s boring,” he said. “I don’t care about Percy.” Evidently, Nick Butterworth’s widely loved Percy the park keeper, did not cut the mustard in our house. So, the next morning we had a chat with his teacher and he chose something different.

Bo and I continued to enjoy our bedtime reading but as Bo developed, his idea of a good story became very different to mine. Having read four chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, me enjoying it immensely, Bo asked if we could read one of his Minecraft books instead. Really? With good grace I closed up the JK Rowling and reached for Clash of the Creepers by Winter Morgan. My hand hardly shook.

As a primary school teacher I have watched too many Early Years’ parents become anxious about their child’s lack of reading skills or worse, too many children in the juniors wrestling through Biff, Chip and Kipper, ORT stage 4. The truth is, children cannot easily be forced to learn to read, they need a reason to read. Whether it’s the back of the Frosties cereal packet, the road signs to Grandma’s house or the Beano – all of these  require reading skills and count. One child I worked with had a serious interest in America. Though he struggled with any other piece of writing, show him a newspaper article about Donald Trump, and he became riveted; sounding out the words, desperate to understand the meaning. He had a reason to read.

IMG_4151When I listen to children read and they appear to be struggling, the first question I ask is, “Are you enjoying this book?” If they reply no, we find something else to read. If they say yes, I probe further: why do they like it? Which characters do they like best? What do they think might happen next? What has been their favourite part so far? Once I know they are comprehending and enjoying the story (or the information if it is a fact book) we continue with it. Otherwise, we’ll find something else that is similar but at an easier level.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of working with a little chap in year 4, who had been struggling through the Oxford Reading Tree scheme for three years! Now, don’t get me wrong, this is a great scheme and it works for many children. But not Thomas. He was so sick of the magic key, he wanted to ram it right… well, never mind, the point is he hated reading and no wonder; he was bored stiff with the subject matter. Together, we perused the great collection of school reading books to look for something that would grab his imagination but whatever he, reluctantly, picked out became a struggle for both of us. Finally, I put the book down and looked at him. “Thomas,” I said. “There must be something you enjoy? Anything? Perhaps something you watch on television or a game you play? Anything?”

“Minecraft,” he replied without any hesitation.

Groaning inwardly, I nodded and forced a smile. “All right then, let’s read Minecraft.”


All names have been changed.

Author’s note: I can recommend both Primary reading schemes: Oxford Reading Tree and Collins Big Cat as I have used them with many children.
Oxford Reading Tree (ORT) : http://www.oxfordreadingtree.com
Collins Big Cat: https://collins.co.uk/category/Primary/English/Collins+Big+Cat/

 

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