Tuesday 28 July 2015

Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions

'Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed. Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions' Luke 12:15

We've reached the stage in preparing to move overseas where everything we own is being divided into three piles:

1) Take it with us
2) Put it in storage here
3) Give it away

I once heard a wise man say 'everybody should move house every five years, as it makes you consider what is really needed'. I would tend to agree with that. It has only been five years since we came back to the UK after four years abroad, and in that time we seem to have accumulated plenty of 'stuff'. It is actually quite helpful to sort it all out.

I've recently commented on the relationships we formed this year with other Christians who had moved away from their 'home' country. When reflecting on just what it was that enabled those relationships to flourish, there were obvious things such as being willing to move half way round the world with several young children including a baby (this is something we have done several times, but it is not something that our friends and family have easily been able to relate to). But a second major element is with regard to our shared attitude towards possessions.

Basically, they are just things. Yes, these 'things' can make our life a bit easier and more comfortable, yes. through this, these 'things' can aid us in our ability to show hospitality and serve others. But ultimately, they are just 'things'. When quality of life surveys are done in diverse countries around the world, there often emerges a paradox that people who live in material poverty and relatively poor health (using internationally accepted indices of these) will rate their quality of life as higher than those who live in well-resourced settings (such as the UK). Often when seeking an explanation for this, the answer is summarised in terms of priorities and values: 'they value people more than things'.

Isn't it sad that we live in a culture where increasingly people choose to prioritise belongings over relationships? And where people invest heavily in their earthly comfort and security whilst giving little thought to their eternal destiny? How do we help our children to understand what is of true value and what warrants and investment of their energy, talents and resources?

You will be glad to know I do not claim to have full answers to these questions! However, from our recent experiences I can see several ways in which our children have been exposed to what I consider to be a balanced perspective:

1) Belongings really are just 'things'. We often pass on or lend things to people who have recently arrived (or who are about to depart and have shipped most of their things back home). Similarly, we have been in positions of having to borrow from others (and this might be the case again in six weeks time). The boys found it quite hard to lend their train set to a family who have shipped all their toys. However, they also came to see the importance of sharing, being willing to lend and the fact that there are times when it does come with a bit of a sting. They are now delighted that they have been able to lend one of their very favourite things, because they know how much pleasure it should bring. (Over the year they have been very keen to want to lend things and make things for their friends, but nothing quite as beloved as the train set!)

2) Hospitality does not require a perfect house. We have had people over for quite basic meals, at times when the house has not been tidy (I must confess, it never feels very tidy, but when we plan to have guests, I do whizz round the more visible parts of it to make it presentable). However, it is more important to share and to enjoy fellowship. I confess, there have been occasions when I have hesitated before inviting somebody round at short notice (such as when you are in the park, and you say, 'Come back to mine for tea') but every time I have done this, it has been a time of blessing. Similarly, I have seen friends who have had quite basic furniture and things gladly share all they have. What we remember (and what the boys continue to talk about as the months go past) are the things we did and the conversations we had. Nobody can really remember what we ate, what we sat on of whether anybody's kitchen was sparking.

3) Through limiting exposure to media (we don't have a television and they are not exposed to advertising except on billboards out and about) the boys are not exposed to a constant stream of material things that they could have. Even still, it is amazing what seeing a billboard can do! I mentioned above that in low resource countries there is often great contentment; however, in one particular country a dictator had banned television and this remained law until he ceased power in 1994. Now that people can see what they might consider to be 'normal' on British or US television, there is increasing materialism. It is just the same with our children. As long as they don't know that certain clothing or certain toys are the 'must have' things for 6 year olds, they probably won't want them.

4) As a home educating family, the boys are not yet exposed to much peer pressure. I am sure it will come in time, and I do not want to be complacent here. (I remember once after church, one of the boys asked me, 'Mummy, when are you going to buy me an ipad?' - because he had seen so many other children there with ipads, and just presumed this was a normal thing you got at a certain age). We spend time with a range of people of different ages, social status and nationalities, and there isn't a single dominant group that they seek to emulate.

5) I suppose some of it also comes through the friendships we have as parents. We have reached an age (I think it is known as 'middle age', but I prefer 'mid-life') where many people around us do prioritise 'settling down' - getting the right house in the right area, getting the children into the 'right' schools and all the time making provision for the uncertainties of the future. I do not wish to say these things are not important (we also bought a house, have carefully considered the area where we life, and have invested a lot of consideration and prayer in their education. We also have insurance and a pension plan); the difference is that these are simply tools in life, things that we do and seek to do with wisdom, but don't idolise. I remember once spending an entire Sunday afternoon with a newly married couple who wished to discuss double glazing. The same couple talked to me for over an hour about their chosen pram when they were expecting a child. I find that hard - not because double glazing or prams are wrong in any way, but rather that I would not choose to have such conversations! I think (I hope!) we do gravitate towards people who 'value relationships more than things'

It is my prayer for the boys that over the weeks ahead (and of course the longer term) that they identify correct priorities.

Sunday 26 July 2015


'Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen' Hebrews 11:1

Followed by many stories of the people who lived by faith (whose lives are described in the Old Testament, then:

'These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth' Hebrews 11:13

Today was an emotional day. For the past year we have been joined at church by two families from different parts of the world. In both cases, the husband was working at the same hospital as me and their wives were home looking after three children of almost the same ages as our boys. One of them had been in touch before arriving, via an international network of Christian doctors, and we met the other family soon afterwards (somewhat by chance, if things ever should be by chance when God is in control!) playing in a nearby park. I am often amazed how in the family of God, there is no real issue of culture - instead we are all 'strangers and pilgrims' on the same journey, headed heaven bound.

The children bonded quickly - I remember one day last summer when my five year old and their four year old were absolutely delighted to pee against the same tree (sorry to be so graphic, but that was the moment that they became firm friends!). They then dashed off into the undergrowth and spent the next few hours playing with sticks. I have many photos of them together, digging in the dirt, collecting beetles, building dens. We have had some great days out together as a family. Language did not really seem an issue. Recently, my sons commented 'he makes more sense now; he used to speak nonsense most of the time'. They had not realised he was speaking different languages, but the fact they thought he was talking 'nonsense' did not matter at all in the friendship. On another occasion, we all enjoyed a blustery walk to some islands at low tide. Six adults, nine children, seven nationalities represented and multiple languages being spoken, and yet the fellowship was rich.

We learnt lots from one another. There are cultural differences all over the place, perhaps reflected in the songs we might choose or the style of Bible study with which we are familiar, but we were all coming from different directions to head in the way we believe God is calling us. I've recently commented on how I have found that having children really brings out the differences, and at times can make us feel different and misunderstood, even among Christians. There was little of this here.

Today, we had prayers of farewell as both these families will depart over the next couple of weeks; they may never come back to live in the UK. At the same service, we prayed for another close family with three children who are going on a scouting visit to a tough Asian country with a view to longer term missionary service; they left today. And as I type, my husband is upstairs packing as he flies to Africa the day after tomorrow to set some things up for our move in September. All of this movement, all of this transition brought some unexpected emotion (I am usually more of a pragmatist!). Also, this has been the first time my boys have really been aware of the departures, and the eldest has commented he feels sad (I have been trying to hide how I feel from him, but today this was not possible). I feel very much in a state of transition, not really sure where home is. This has been a recurring theme over the past decade as we have moved between countries several times, sometimes not knowing how long we are there for, sometimes unexpectedly, sometimes with great purpose. We have known joys and sorrows, but in all we know God has been faithful.

So, rather than continue to describe emotions, I will focus on what all of this teaches us about God (and the lessons I hope my children really hold on to):

1) God is so much bigger than we can understand. The world is bigger than we understand. We should never put people into 'boxes' because of their nationality or language

2) One day in heaven, the Bible is quite clear, there will be a great multitude from every tribe and tongue. 'After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!' Revelation 7:9-10

3) The family of God transcends culture. We can learn so much from the way people from other countries see the outworking of the Biblical instructions regarding fellowship, hospitality and encouragement

4) We have a great ability to pray for one another. At the weekend we had been to the beach with one of the families and built a massive sandcastle. The next day, my six year old drew a sandcastle with 19 flags on it (because he had counted that he knew people in 19 countries). We have a world map (ours is Operation World with statistics about unreached people groups on it) on which we have placed yellow stickers for where the people we are praying for are. We've started a monthly prayer meeting in our house. It seems so much more real to the boys because they have real friends there

5) Similarly, writing letters of encouragement - for the boys, having a reason to write makes a huge difference to their willingness to do handwriting. They also love to receive letters - recently we wrote to some friends on the other side of the world, and several weeks later we had a reply - the boys love this, and it keeps the relationships alive

6) Having other friends who are in transition helps our boys see that our family is not so very unusual, and that there are others who move between countries and cultures too. This has been really helpful for them, and the fact that 9 of their friends are leaving in the next week will make it easier for us to move at the end of the summer.

7) We've seen God open doors, bless and provide for these other families. That has been exciting! We have previously known God provide everything we could possibly need for us. Therefore as we approach the next move, there really is no need to fear at all. God knows where we should live, where we should go to church, the key people we should build relationships with. The faith of our friends at this time of transition has been a blessing

8) We've seen amazing hospitality and blessing from these people who have been 'visitors' in the UK - this is such an important reminder that whether you are in a place for a week, a month or a year, you should not see it as too short to be used by God.

I am sure I will reflect more on this topic over the coming weeks, but for now I should go and help with the packing.

My challenge to you tonight is to consider:

1) Where is your true home?
2) Where do you find your identity?
3) Where do you place your security?

Sunday 19 July 2015

Time and Priorities

I have always resolved never to say 'I'm too tired', or 'I'm too busy' - because it is easy for these statements to become self-indulgent and perhaps even self-pitying. There is also a subtle implication that you are 'more' tired or busy than the person you are speaking to. Furthermore, often being tired or busy is a consequence of choices we have made. God created the world, and specifically set the sun, moon and stars in place to govern the times and seasons (Genesis 1). He created man and woman, gave us God-given responsibilities, and knew right from the start that it might be difficult at times to prioritise. One might argue that the modern world has more temptation in this area than ever before (24 hour shopping, 24 hour libraries, internet that never stops, working between time zones where the working day can be extended, flexi-time, more and more extra curricular activities for both adults and children and so forth). But we are also taught that there is 'nothing new under the sun' (Ecclesiastes) and that Jesus was 'tempted in every way as we are, yet was without sin' (Hebrews 4:15). Conscientious employees will always have worked hard and long. Well meaning parents will always have worked extra hard to provide for their children and prepare activities and surprises for them. Dutiful Christians will have served God with their whole heart, soul, mind and strength - and in giving their all, will have become tired in the process. I do not think this is new! And in that we can take great comfort:

1) God knows we are human (in several places we are referred to as being 'dust' or frail and transient like 'the flower of the field, which the wind passes over and it is gone'.

2) Jesus was fully human, just as we are. He knew fatigue. He knew grief. He knew when it was necessary to withdraw with his disciples for a time (Mark 3). He knew the absolute necessity of prayer, finding strength in God

3) Even Jesus could not be everywhere at once. He could not be everything to everybody during his earthly life, but instead prioritised several key relationships (being especially close to Peter, James and John, then to the rest of the twelve, then to the seventy two, and then to others). We can learn from that! (How many close friends do you have? How many Facebook 'friends' do you try to remain close to?)

4) God shows compassion on the weary - I love the story in 1 Kings 19, where Elijah became exhausted and discouraged after God's amazing triumph over the prophets of Baal. God did not become angry with him, but rather gave him refreshing sleep, nourishment and then the next challenge.

5) Jesus tells those who are weary and heavy laden to bring their burdens to Him (Matthew 11:28)

As we are busy juggling work, home education and preparing for a major move, the days have felt too short. Tonight, I feel too weary to write much. I read Jess Connell's post on blogging with a young family - she makes some very balanced comments. My aim is to post once a week during this season of life, but there may be times when life takes over for a while!

Monday 13 July 2015

Home educating in different households

One thing I really love about home education is that it can be tailored to suit the needs of:

1) Each individual child
2) The wider family
3) Changing seasons of life
4) Varied locations and cross-cultural living
5) The weather (!)

Sometimes this flexibility and diversity can be a little frustrating - there are times when I just wish somebody could tell me what to do in a certain situation, or recommend with absolute confidence the resources which would suit our family best. However, this drawback is minor.

I find reading about other families in different circumstances can be helpful - you realise that every family has both its joys and its challenges, and that even those who appear so tidy, organised and 'perfect' on the outside have days when discipline can seem like a battle, and where the battle to keep the house tidy has been conceded long ago.

I enjoyed this description of the highs and lows of home education in a pastor's family.

On a perhaps related note, I was challenged by this post by a (home educating) pastor's wife on some of the challenges of being married to a pastor.

I hope you enjoy the links.

Monday 6 July 2015

Home education when both parents share the roles (blog hop)

This week's post has been written in a home education 'blog-hop' led by Sarah at Delivering Grace - she is creating a series by parents who home educate in a range of family circumstances (for example, whilst caring for an elderly relative, with a special needs child, with a particularly large family and with a pastor's family). My post was on home educating when the roles are shared between parents and is found here.

You'll like Delivering Grace. It is clear, regularly updated and focusses very much on the specifics of home education within that particular family. They hold a strongly biblical worldview which I share, and therefore am often particularly interested in the posts with spiritual content. There are often links to other blogs and resources and I have found it a great source of encouragement.

One of the biggest challenges I find in home education is that it can feel isolating. We don't have a natural 'peer group', and even amongst home education groups you may be involved with, families are often so diverse that it is not always easy to draw direct encouragement in the areas where you need it most. This is where I really find blogs come into their own. I can read short, inspiring posts at random times of day or night when I get a free moment, and although this does not replace real life relationships, it allows a different type and level of relationship which can deal with the specific ins and outs of home education, of different styles and curricula, of different challenges which emerge with children at different ages, of some of the more personal struggles that a home educating family might come across.

I wonder whether you have any favourite blogs or websites to share?

Friday 3 July 2015

Being fully persuaded (and remaining gracious)

Romans 14:5: ‘One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.’

Romans 14:12: ‘So then, each of us shall give account of himself to God.’

Romans 14:23: ‘Whatever is not from faith is sin.’

Have you ever noticed that when you have children, some of your views and opinions become more evident? For example, you might have believed something for years, but when you have children, suddenly you might be making choices that are somewhat different to the default paths of the world around you. At least that has certainly been our experience! When we were a childless couple, our choices with regard to how we lived, how we ate, how we administered our finances, how we observed the Sabbath, our choices with regard to entertainment, use of free time, the company we would choose - many of these were quiet decisions we would make which nobody else would really notice or care about. There were times when even living as a Christian, we did not feel particularly counter-cultural; after all many aspects of our life were very similar to those around us - we lived in a house, we went to work, we would go on holiday, we would enjoy nice food and friendships.

It has been different since having children. We noticed it quite early on - for example, often when I changed a washable nappy, somebody nearby would comment on the reasons why they did not use re-usable nappies. Or if we had a disciplined nap and bedtime routine, visiting friends would immediately explain to us the reasons why they had been unable to have such a pattern. Similarly, with pots of pureed fruit and vegetables, a friend sitting nearby would tell me they thought shop-prepared purees were better because they were more nutritionally balanced. And so forth. It was as though by choosing to do something differently, people might automatically see this as criticism of their lifestyle and choices.

As they years have passed, this occurs now in the realm of education. Sometimes I think it is because people feel a little threatened - 'I'd love to have my children at home with me all day, but it would drive me crazy', or 'we need two incomes in order to get by, so we've had to put them in nursery'. But also, it can sometimes be for other reasons. There are those who have a genuine concern that through home education, we are depriving our children of some of the richest aspects of childhood.

I find direct questions and challenges relatively easy to deal with. You know where the other person is coming from, what their concerns might be, and you can either debate or agree to differ. But what I find more difficult is the subtle remarks or tensions that can arise in conversation. We experienced this a little this weekend - we were with some really good friends, but on several occasions I felt that I was causing offence or being misconstrued without really understanding why this was. Granted, we were all tired, but it was particularly when discussing children, routines, Sunday-school activities (or keeping them in mainstream church) or future educational choices that I felt uncomfortable. But when I reflected, I realised that for this family, there were many teachers who had enjoyed challenging, stimulating and rewarding careers, and that they lived in a locality where the school was almost an intrinsic part of the community. For them, a childhood without being in the local primary school would really seem isolated and miserable. Furthermore, from their perspective, they had never seen a reason to consider home education, and had not known many (other than missionaries in remote places) who had made this choice. So it was hardly surprising that they did not feel comfortable to enthusiastically discuss these things! Similarly, children's church and related activities had been a major part of their Christian service for many years, and by choosing to not put our children into these groups, it may have seen that we considered this role to have no value.

At first I felt sad, then a bit frustrated and misunderstood. But as I reflected, I realised that our perspective is very different to theirs, and that it would have been more unusual had they waxed lyrical about the benefits of home schooling. I also appreciate that a true friend will raise concerns and questions if they have them, and that they only want what is best for our family.

For some people, I think the proof will be in the fruit that develops through the years; however I see the risk in that argument as it can cause a temptation for a home educating family to feel under pressure to constantly prove and to excel; in my life this can make me frustrated at times when my young boys behave like young boys rather than responsible young men. Some people will be persuaded over time, and others may continue to be skeptical. It does not really matter. What is important is that:

1) We do not select friends who always agree with us entirely - the book of Proverbs has plenty to say on friendship, and in particular there are verses which outline the importance of 'the wounds of a friend'

2) We do not seek to use our families to prove a point. Rather, as we execute the choices we believe we are called to, we should seek in all things to honour God.

3) We must be fully persuaded in our own minds. Home education (or any decision which takes us against the conventional tide) is not always easy. We will not always have encouragers to cheer us on our way. 

4) We understand that there are some areas where the Bible is not absolutely black and white - for us in our family, a major outworking of our faith is the choice to home educate. But there are other very godly people who have not reached this conclusion. We must take care not to judge.