Aside

A prematurity post

Today’s blog is a guest post all about having a child prematurely, by Ruth Walker. Thanks to Ruth for her honesty, and down-to-earth writing about this emotional subject.

“Imagine the scene. You’re 27 weeks pregnant with your first child. You pack your car for a week at a church youth camp, where you’re going to be responsible adult helpers. You get to the site, pitch your tent, spend the first evening ironing out a few minor problems (forgetting the camp cutlery box, the marquee having a rip in the roof) and working on ‘getting to know you games’. You’re glad when you finally get to bed on your already deflating airbed. You haven’t had much time to think. You register your baby might not be moving quite so much as usual, but you shrug it off to ‘I’ve been too busy to notice’. You wake in the middle of the night. Not much movement. You read your maternity notes, do the whole cold drink and lay on your side thing. Still not much movement. The night goes by. By the time morning comes, you’re rather worried that something is wrong so you make the call, then trot off to your home hospital – all the way back home again. You spend the day having various tests with the result looks more worrying as the hours pass. Then the consultant says ‘right, we’re off to theatre – your baby is much too poorly’. You’re a bit dazed. You’re more than a little scared (not helped by the difficult conversation you have with the doctors along the lines of ‘how hard would you like us to try and save the baby’). Your precious firstborn son is born fighting hard for life, weighing 2lb 3oz at 27 weeks. That’s 13 weeks too early. You had no notice of the looming catastrophe. You have no idea that the complication he suffered even existed. You caught a brief glimpse of your son being whisked away to NICU, end up on the post-natal ward in the early hours of the morning, your husband is sent home and when the consultant visits the next day they give you the mind-bending news that if you had come earlier they might not have picked up on the problem, but if you had come any later the baby would have died. The son that you’ve still not met. The son that you won’t get to hold for a week. The son that you don’t do the first nappy change on, the first feed, the first dressing in clothes – pretty much the first anything. The son you spend ten weeks in Neo-natal with before taking him home at still sub-5lb.

About two years ago, I was asked to write a blog post on prematurity and how it has affected me as a Christian. I started to write it many, many times. Each time it would have been different. There could have been the “why me, Lord?” post, or the “jealous of other people’s normal” post. There could have been a “practical tips for surviving ten weeks in NICU” post or “bringing home a very small baby and keeping them disease free while sharing them with a church community desperate to meet them” post, or a “how to identify genuine concern from just plain nosy people” post, or a “I’m so thankful to never have to go to a Paediatric appointment again” post.

Since then, I have watched from afar or very close by a friend nearly dying in childbirth; a friend welcoming their longed-for child after gruelling years of infertility (aside: how do we manage that in a family focused church community?). I’ve watched a friend lose her baby shortly after birth. And I’ve had hard conversations with two other mothers who lost babies at the same gestation as mine in NICU. I was already aware that not every baby on the unit at the same time as us made it home at all, and that some had years of close medical watch and extensive operations. I’ve talked with a friend about being on the outside in a family where there are babies with severe medical needs, and how that takes up the time and energy of the extended family to the detriment of existing relationships. And I watched our little boy grow, and be healthy, and develop perfectly normally beyond all first expectations.

How do I feel? Thankful. Joyful. Humble. Hopefully I’ve developed beyond the self-centred person I used to be. Hopefully I’ve learned empathy. Hopefully I’ve developed my listening ear. And I know for sure I’ve developed a faith in the power of prayer – not necessarily for miracles, but for the compassion and love I can try to bring to others in difficult situations, and for their strength to deal with those situations.

And honestly – how did it affect me? Well, now we’ve welcomed our second child safely, I have come to understand what I missed. The simplicity of a more normal pregnancy and delivery. The rush of love everybody raves about. The sheer joy of a newborn you can touch and love straight away with no machines or incubator barriers. And while I am hugely blessed in this, I’m wistful that my precious boy and I did not experience this; that our love has been a more refined-by-fiery-trial bond and that our relationship is defined by worry and over-protectiveness. I feel guilty about the less obvious emotional attachment I feel to him sometimes in comparison. I struggle with the thought that maybe I did have PND after all, but just chose to ignore it and struggle on regardless. I wrestle now with scriptures such as ‘Lo, children are the heritage of the Lord and the fruit of the womb his reward’ and how that applies to the childless, or those in difficult circumstances.

My message to those going through trying times in pregnancy and birth and early childhood? Keep going. It’s impossible to work out during our trials why the Lord is testing us in this particular way. It’s entirely possible we’ll never know. But we do know He won’t test us more than we’re able to bear. Just take each hour at a time. It’s okay to feel like you’re not coping. Ask for help – it comes from unlikely sources sometimes. And to those of you watching from the side-lines? Make the effort to help in whatever way you can (like supermarket gift cards to spend on ready meals to eat at the hospital, or cleaning the house while they’re at the hospital, or even picking the gazillion apples from the tree and freezing them). If there’s nothing practical you can offer, just letting somebody know you are thinking of, and praying with and for them is helpful enough – and don’t expect a reply: sometimes there’s only headspace to register such thoughts. But be sure they are very much valued. And be understanding of the fact that when a poorly child leaves hospital it can still be very vulnerable – as can its parents. Genuine concern is always welcome, but nosiness isn’t. And sometimes we all have a habit of asking personal questions when they might not be welcome. Talking about traumatic experiences is a very useful therapy, but not always right away. Hence the delay in this blog post!”

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Aside

Bad times and Church-present

These are some things I’ve thought about recently. They link into a great talk we heard at church about the future of our churches, and the Big Conversation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqdM5GctatI (and subsequent links from there)

Here are some phrases that I hear a lot. “I’m not getting what I need from my church” and “my spiritual needs aren’t being met by my church”. The problem with these phrases, is that they are making ‘church’ a thing. A thing that is separate from us. Church isn’t a thing, church is us.

So that’s my first point.

Church is not a thing, it’s us. We make a church by being in the same room as another like-minded person. Let’s call these people ‘bricks’.img_4855

‘Church’ isn’t a special place that we go to where we magically come away feeling happy every time we’re there. No one hands us a lovely present of spiritual uplift. If we do happen to feel uplifted after meeting with fellow Christians, then GREAT! But it’s not a defining factor of our churches. And each individual is in charge of their own uplifted feeling. We don’t need to have that feeling, for it to be worth us being there, in the same room as the other brick. It isn’t essential to us being a Christian.

Are you happy all the time away from church? Of course not – we need to have the full range of emotions in life. And we need the full range with our other bricks too. What if someone was crying at church? We all cry with them. We don’t come away and say, well what a disappointing Church session because that person made us all so sad.

Church (by the above definition) doesn’t hand out spiritual presents every Sunday.

So, here’s a scenario: some fellow Christians stumble into each other one day in a building. “Oh!” they say. “We’ve made a church, hurrah!”. Fantastic. What next? They all sit down and have a think. “Let’s wait for something to happen!” cries one. “Good plan!” They sit and wait. It becomes awkward. “Anyone feeling spiritually better yet?”

It’s easy to blame our feelings on other people. Let’s say for example that we have started avoiding church because we don’t come away feeling ‘spiritually uplifted’ – we are blaming our ‘church’ for not meeting those needs.

Our ‘spiritual needs'(whatever they are!) are not someone else’s responsibility.

If we never meet up with the other bricks, then clearly our ‘needs’ will never be met. What does Jesus list as the two most important commandments? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. We should attempt to go to church to show mercy to our other bricks, and to meet their spiritual needs as a priority – not our own. Luke 10:27

Bad times at Church are essential.

When I had my first baby, I had post-natal depression, was miserable, and consequently whinged about church all the time. I could find fault with a huge range of things. It was all wrong, it wasn’t ‘meeting my needs’. I persevered in a ‘church’ I didn’t like, with bricks I didn’t like. But looking back, I can see I was impressively self-important. All I could see was my own misery. Since then, I have learned some of the best lessons of my life about love – specifically, loving people that I don’t like. So all that miserable time spent chuntering at the back about how awful my church was, was essential to the development of my character (sorry, my long-suffering husband-ear!)

Think of a time when your church struggled with an issue – people got hurt, people left, people were too angry to come along. But that time has made you grow as a Christian. Maybe it forced you to look at a difficult issue. Maybe it showed you a different side to someones character, maybe you had to shrug your shoulders and say ‘whatever, I don’t agree but whatever’. All good stuff.

There’s no such thing as a perfect church. All churches have problems – purely because of our first definition of ‘Church’ listed above. It’s because it’s made of people – some of whom we don’t like. Hands up anyone who is a member of a church where they like every single person there? (If you’re smugly saying yes then you’ve just ruined my point but you’re in a great church so hey ho swings and roundabouts)

So I guess i’m saying keep being a brick, even if you’re a miserable brick, otherwise all the other bricks fall down.

p.s my better half told me not to use the phrase ‘people that I don’t like’, but instead to say ‘people I find it difficult to like’. Probably sensible – if you feel strongly about it, please mentally alter the above.

 

Aside

Who is my neighbour?

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How is it three months since I last posted?! Crazy. This week has seen both my little cherubs heading off into higher places of learning, and so I had one hallowed (unlike the previous four harrowing) morning of peacefulness when I actually looked around my house rather than rushing through it, and I noticed something chalked up on the top of our blackboard. It occurred to me that this was the perfect quotation to read this week – I have been introduced to a whole new myriad of actual neighbours whilst hovering anxiously in the playground – and my holey brain has retained a sum total of two of their names (never mind all their kids names!). Who is my neighbour indeed.

Happy Friday!

p.s if you’re looking for a spiritual boost, this blackboard quotation writing has been working really well for us as a family. Jon chooses a different quote for each week, and not only does it give me inspiration for the day, it also provides an insight into what Jon has been thinking about spiritually this week. Not always easy to find the time to sit and talk about those things.

What about you mums and dads? How have you been finding these going back to school weeks? Has it made life easier or harder? Has it raised any spiritual questions? Let me know, so we can all share any tips or answer questions.

 

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5 little fishes

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Here’s a quick Sunday School/craft idea…both of my boys have enjoyed playing with this game, and it can be used for so many stories – feeding the five thousand (with play-dough bread rolls), 1,2,3,4,5, once I caught a fish alive etc – or even just normal fishing play! The original idea came from the lovely and useful http://www.theimaginationtree.com.

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Tutorial:

Very thick card or millboard (I used millboard so it would stand up to the rigours of small boys, and it’s lasted well for two years so far)

Split pins

Paint

Decorations; tissue paper; sequins; glitter; felt-tips; crayons; stickers etc

Eyes

Marker/Sharpie for mouth details

Number stickers

Fishing rod and string/blind cord

Magnet

  1. Draw a fish shape onto thick card.
  2. Use the fish to trace 5-10 other fish. Initially I only did five, and then added another five a year or so later.
  3. Cut them all out (use a stanley knife or scalpel if using millboard)
  4. Paint one side.
  5. Pierce a hole at the nose large enough to put a split-pin through, then put in a split pin.
  6. Allow the children to decorate the other side with whatever you have/like. We used glue, tissue paper and paint for the first five, then felt-tips, glitter and sequins for the second five.
  7. Glue an eye to each fish.
  8. Turn over, and put numbers 1-5/10 on the painted side. We used foam stickers.
  9. Make a fishing rod – I cut a short piece of dowel, painted the end red, and tied a length of blind cord around the top (secured with superglue). Then I tied a magnet onto the end of the cord.

Happy and peaceful fishing!

Do you have any great tutorials that you can share? I love getting new ideas for Sunday school!

Aside

#justpray

Many of you will have seen the news articles last week about the Lord’s prayer featuring in an advert, that was then deemed unsuitable for viewing in a cinema setting.

It got me to thinking – how extraordinary, that prayer is such a controversial subject. Surely it’s a subject of non-interest, to those who are…not interested? What was the first response to the tragedies that happened in Paris on Nov. 13th? #prayforparis. A twitter hashtag that was used extremely widely, even by those who would not consider themselves to be practising Christians. So what does this mean? Who is everyone praying to?

It seems that it is a facet of human nature, to call for help when in trouble. The natural response is to look around, as the meme says, ‘for a more adultier adult’ than yourself, to ask ‘what’s going on? help! I can’t do anything about this myself!’. How wonderful that we are built with this inside us, so that we use it whether we want to or not!

I’ve had a little idea bubbling in my head for a little while, about the links between meditation, and children’s behaviour. Some of you may have seen this news article http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-21865083, and also this one…

It occurred to me, that seeing as prayer and meditation are very closely linked, it would be an excellent thing to do with our children. And by that I mean, teach our children to pray in a very direct way, such as these meditation classes do. Perhaps even as way to control or understand behaviour. Perhaps even talk them through it step by step…wait a minute…the Lord’s prayer….step by step….

Look out for my next post on this very subject!

Happy Saturday!

Video clips credit: Youtube.com
Sister’s Day 2015

Sister’s Day 2015

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Last Saturday I was privileged to be able to go along to a really fantastic and uplifting ‘ladies only day’ in Solihull. It was my first day out without the kiddiwinks for quite a while – cue lots of comments along the lines of ‘have you been given a day pass?’ or ‘they’ve let you out have they?’ haw-haw. Words can’t really do justice to the wonderful mood there was there (may have been enhanced because of childlessness and opportunity to use own handbag with just keys and wallet in rather than usual monstrous sack full of things to deal with every imaginable child-induced situation)….. The theme was ‘Listening to God in our busy lives’, and this is something I definitely need the solution to! The day was split into several areas within this theme such as ‘Barriers to listening’ and ‘Benefits of stillness’. So I made some notes as it went along, as there was a lot of applicable and helpful ideas that I thought I would share with you. Here are my favourites, hopefully you’ll find some of them useful too.

1. Martha, Mary and Manufacturing busyness

The account of Martha and Mary in Luke 10 is such a PERFECT illustration of what we are trying to achieve isn’t it?! We’re all a mixture of the two, trying to find that right balance between our Christian lives and being a mother. The account speaks for itself, and feeling guilty about not being able to be more like Mary can be a positive motivator to forgo the cleaning for once. Manufacturing busyness is also something that we can’t deny that we do – if we have spare time, we fill it! Is it a badge of honour? Do we learn it from all our female acquaintances? Do we feel competitive to be a Supermum?

2. Balancing our lives

It takes effort and organisation to make time for God. We’ve learnt those skills by being a mother – we just have to be (in my case, mildly) organised don’t we?! So, we should carry those skills over into making time for God. Prioritise, learn to say no, and ask for help.

3. Barriers to listening to God and solutions

– Reading – If you’ve no time to read the Bible, how about listening to it? Put it on your phone, your iPod, as a cd in the car, whatever.

– Prayer – If you need some motivation for prayer, how about starting a prayer journal or thankfulness book – it can really help to see how God has worked in your life and answered prayer over months/years.

– Social media – If you find that you default to social media or Internet browsing in your down-time, then why not make it spiritually positive and read blogs (like this one 🙂 )

I really found these ideas very helpful to think about so hopefully they will speak to you in some small way too.

Image credit:Rachel Otter