Who is He to you now?

It was a Tuesday morning and we were heading to the shops to choose glasses for Noah, my four year old. As we pulled into the carpark a giant tear just slid down my cheek. The day before my dad had been given a cancer diagnosis and although we knew he was sick, because he looked so sick, it was still a shock to get the really bad news from a doctor.

But this tear was not even so much to do with the cancer. The tear was because in some deep part of me I felt a sudden awareness that in our world all is not as it should be. I felt a wave of fear at the realisation life can mean struggle and pain. It was a moment when darkness just seemed so heavy and I felt exposed and small. As my husband unbuckled my son out of his car seat I wiped the tear away and quickly grabbed my bag.

A few hours later my dad took his own life at home.

And this isn’t a post about his death or a detailed account of what happened and why. I’ve been through that a million times. I know it will not get me anywhere. It doesn’t help. It doesn’t change anything.

This is my truth about how being alive and human is both beautiful and brutal. It’s a post about a war that rages all over the earth and how it can crush everything you once so innocently sang and smiled about. It’s a post about experiencing faith when you feel like the oil for your lamp has run out.

*

I have discovered it is not a crisis of faith to have no words.

When dad died my words just disappeared. They seemed void of any meaning.  The things people said or wrote didn’t affect me in the slightest. I didn’t really want to speak to anyone or write or read. Sometimes when people politely asked how I was I would say ‘fine’ and it sounded callous. I could hear myself saying it thinking, my goodness your dad has just died, show some remorse.

But really, I would rather have talked about you and your life, than me and mine. I had no words for my own life and it was an effort to find any. When people called I was glad my husband was there. He carried the conversation, he answered their questions for me. He filled the gaps when my voice trailed off and disappeared.

I dreaded the hope-filled explanations of what happened. I didn’t want to hear anything from anyone, actually. I just wanted to sit in my sadness and grieve the loss of my dad. I just want to quietly remember. I wanted space to let my questions linger a while and I was tired of the inevitable clichés and quick responses.

The shock and grief was tough to articulate, to be honest. I had grown up with a faith in God and gone to church my whole life. And yet when dad died, suddenly and unexpectedly, I didn’t really know what to do with the horror. I wasn’t sure what church had taught me about the darkness. I knew plenty about the light, plenty about celebration and joy and beauty but not so much about despair and heartache and fear. There had never seemed much room for that.

What did God think about my emptiness and the vacant blank stare I held on my face and in my heart and soul?

What was I to do at night when I was too afraid to close my eyes, too scared of what I might see?

What would he make of my anger and the constant tirade of questions I threw at him?

When dad died it was like darkness had arrived at my door and I wasn’t prepared.

One week I was standing in a soft play area chatting to friends and organising my little boy’s fourth birthday party and buying a new handbag. And the next I was at the funeral directors, choosing hymns and a coffin with my mum.

One week grief was the furthest thing from my mind and the next I could hardly breathe from the weight of it.

But organising funerals and writing tributes and driving to crematoriums are not really things you prepare for. Or think about, I suppose.

Often I felt like the light I carried inside me had just gone out.

I felt a bit broken, changed and altered somehow. I worried if I would cart that void feeling around forever. I had family and friends all around me. There was a lot to do, a lot to be organised and always a lot of people. But I felt like it was just me, all by myself, just existing.

I’d never been to the funeral of a family member before. In fact, no one close to me has ever died. I’ve never experienced anything traumatic my one whole charmed life. I’ve observed grief from a distance, sure. Offered sympathy and hurt with those who are hurting, but it’s not the same thing.

In your heart of hearts, in your raw place of grief and suffering, in your rich centre of love and redemption, who do you say God is? There, in that place, who is he to you now? (Sarah Bessey)

I’ll tell you the truth.

I had read before that God was close to the broken hearted and I was glad – for them, for those who had the broken hearts. I was pleased that I believed in a good God who saw people hurting. I had prayed for Him to draw near and carry them.

But I didn’t know God in that way. Not really. I knew God in a way that was thankful for all my blessings and good gifts. The God in my life had always been very real and present, but it was always through a lens of joy and hope and gratitude for the comfortable, content life I led.

And then, all of a sudden I was broken hearted. I was the one limping along the dark valley, in pain and so lost. I had a wonderful dad who lived down the road and set up obstacle courses in the garden for my kids. And then I didn’t.

*

Silence and presence.

When dad died this is how I felt God. In His silence and in His presence. When it was just me and my grief I discovered God was there in a way that people around me found difficult. I had no words to form a prayer but I felt like God wasn’t bothered and he stayed with me regardless. Just his presence. No pressure to understand or sort it all out or make sense of it. No easy answers.

Just silence and presence.

I felt held and known and protected. By people around me, yes of course, but also in a truly special, supernatural way from a good Father.

I found that in my bewilderment God did not desert me. He did not roll his eyes at my doubt and confusion. He did not scold my lack of enthusiasm for anything spiritual. In fact, I felt like I had his holy permission to grieve in whatever way I liked on any particular day. God could take it. He could handle my anger. He didn’t leave in a huff when I turned the other way in a rage.

He gently remained.  

He remained when I got stuck, staring into space, for hours on end.

He remained on the nights I battled lies whispered over and over in the quiet places of my soul.

He remained for the questions and deep confusion.

He remained when I walked the school runs feeling like the loneliest person on earth.

He remained at Noah’s birthday party when brave faces disguised deep pain.

The morning of dad’s funeral my husband left to drop the kids to school or with family for the day. I got dressed and then sat down in our unusually quiet house to read a chapter from Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey. The chapter was called ‘Obey the sadness. On grief and Lament’. And in it she shares incredible words from Frederick Buechner,

‘The weight of these sad times we must obey, and must obey just because they are sad times, sad and bewildering times for people who try to hold on to the Gospel and witness to it somehow when in so many ways the weight of our sadness all but crushes the life out of it.’

I felt these words to the depths of my soul.

In my hand I held a tribute I had written about my dad for the funeral. It was full of things I loved about him, things he had taught me and ways he had loved me well. My dad wasn’t perfect, sometimes he got it really wrong, but in his own way he did his best to always make sure I felt loved and cared for. And so for 33 years I experienced the beautiful gift of a good father trying to do his best for his daughter. And to loose that gift is heart breaking.

But the thing about life is, it is both beautiful and brutal. I know this now.

And still, even on the darkest of days I have witnessed such beauty and hope. My kids seem able to talk about dad so openly and freely that often it just leaves me speechless. They remember lovely things that I have forgotten. They talk about heaven with more assurance than I often possess. Yesterday Noah suddenly said, ‘I wish I could see Granda’ because he does and I do too but I probably don’t articulate it out loud very well, or very often. ‘I wish I could see dad.’ I do. When Poppy took her first steps I clapped and cheered but in my heart I was sad. Because dad would have been so proud of her.

He’s not here and I miss him.

*

There are moments in my life right now that are so full of beauty my eyes fill with grateful tears. And there are times when the sadness descends and the tears are of a different kind.

I am slowly learning to hold onto the truth that I have a Father who remains for it all.  And I have a voice and a faith in it all, too.

Grief is not causing me to desert my faith. Grief is deepening it.

Since dad died my greatest need has not been for explanations or assigning blame or finding something to diminish my grief. My greatest need has been for deep assurance that I am gently held and deeply known in every circumstance.

‘Who is he to you now?’

I have found my God to be a good Father who holds me, knows me and He remains.

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I keep finding Jesus…at end of Hill Street

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I go to a church that runs two Alpha courses a year.

I’d heard a fair bit about it, read articles about it, seen photos of it on Instagram. I was aware of the buzz that surrounded Alpha. But for a while my life has been about pregnancy and juggling little people with a husband who works night shifts and I just never seemed to be able to commit to a whole nine weeks of something.

But this year it felt possible and my husband said, ‘Do it. It’ll be great!’

And I was curious.

What is this thing that over 26 million people around the world have tried? How does it work? What makes it so good?

So I said to one of my mates ‘Here, do you fancy doing the Alpha course with me?’ sort of assuming she would just say, ‘Emmm, no thanks’.

But she didn’t say yes. And she didn’t say no.

Actually, she said, ‘What’s Alpha?’

And I felt God saying, stop jumping the gun, stop presuming things. My thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways.

So we ended up going along with a few other mums that we know. I wasn’t sure how any of us felt about God or being a Christian or what their beliefs or questions might be. But they wanted to do the course and we shared a lift into town. And if I am honest it felt like a little break from sorting the bedtime routine at home. Win-Win!

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We’re half way through the course now and here’s a little of what I’m discovering.

Alpha is so simple.

It has a really stripped back feel. There are no gimmicks, no traditions to weird you out, no hidden agendas. It’s a free course that looks at the basics of Christianity over nine weeks. We meet in a coffee shop in the centre of town and we sit at a table, side by side and face to face. We share buns and cake that are homemade and awesome. We hear a talk. We grab another coffee and we have a conversation with the seven or eight people in our group. We listen. We ask questions. We might say, ‘Here’s what I don’t get.’ or ‘This is difficult for me’ or ‘Yeah, this really resonates’. It’s so simple.

And yet, it is so significant.

Because the way this little table of people make their way through the big questions of life is deeply important. Those who lead the discussion and guide our conversation don’t appear perfect, they don’t seem overly accomplished or together. There is no arrogance to their tone. I never feel patronised. In fact, there is never any rush to offer proof of ones beliefs or a mad scramble to get up on a pedestal. Just a lot of people saying you are welcome here. In all of your uncertainty, with all of your questions and doubt and cynicism – you are so very welcome. Take your time. We won’t judge you, we won’t get offended by your honesty, we won’t talk over the top of you.

You see, the group of people sitting at the back on the wooden stools near the window…that’s my group. They’re a great bunch of people and from the first week I knew – these people don’t want to own this space they want to share it with me. They don’t want to make me like them, they want me to become more like the person I was made to be. They’ve been praying about it for weeks.

They just believe the gospel works best in community. Their motivation is the love of Jesus and it dissipates any fear I brought to the table.

I love how Alpha is real – and by that I mean face to face as opposed to virtual. Thinking can be hard work, sharing your thoughts out loud can be even harder. But when you are brave enough to do it and eight other people look you in the eye and nod along saying ‘me too’ it is liberating. It feels like honest conversation is what we were made for. That feeling of being heard and noticed and understood is pretty great.

I wont lie, at Alpha there have been some silences. But they aren’t hurriedly filled with nonsense about religion. They provide room to breathe and mull over the question that’s been posed. And so, while I chew on my delicious Oreo Cheesecake traybake, I also chew over my experience of forgiveness and what it has looked like for me.

I listen to others explain where they find themselves today and how they’re approaching faith.

We chat through the idea of working so hard for God, always earning what is freely bestowed. We consider the weight of making it all about what we do rather than who we are becoming.

We consider Jesus, his radical life on earth and the transforming power of his presence. We talk about the ways in which prayer can be so difficult and reading the Bible can be tough. We offer things that work for us, models and apps and patterns and mind-sets that have helped us a little along the journey.

It probably sounds like a lot for a Monday evening. But it doesn’t feel intense or hard work. Keeping up is easy. It feels like we are partaking in something incredibly special.

Each week I leave Alpha and there’s this taste in my mouth -it’s not just the really good coffee. It’s the taste of hope and life and acceptance. At Alpha the presence of Christ fills the atmosphere and it changes things. I loose track of time. I feel such a deep urge to listen well and understand others. I feel compelled to shake off my deep rooted religion and get to know the person of Jesus a little more. I feel a bit more equipped to live this life of faith.

And when a guy stands up at the end to thank us for coming I am disappointed.

Because there is an opportunity for more here.

More of Jesus. More of his goodness. More of the Kingdom.

In an atmosphere like that your faith is only ever enlarged. You want to stay a little longer.

And so, this little buzzing coffee shop in the centre of Belfast, filled with people from different backgrounds and experiences and questions– well, it pretty much stinks of Jesus Christ. I think I might have found a little bit of the Kingdom here, right at the end of Hill Street.

I’m glad I signed up.

When Kit Kats and Rubber Rings make me feel rich

‘Before falling into sleep, remember the ordinary moments of the day, the moments your children meant something to you. This vision of your kids, it helps restore the prominence of ‘who they are ’ over ‘what they need to do’ or ‘what they need to work on’. Let the images rise to the surface of your day.’ (Simplicity Parenting)

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We have the weirdest Dvd called Wow that’s what I call Nursery Rhymes, featuring Dave Benson Phillips ( for all you 90’s kids he presented Get Your Own Back!) and some other girl called Katie….My kids seriously love it! I cannot for the life of me work out why, but all three of them will sit with heads bobbing along, occasionally jumping up to do some actions or crazy dance. I’m telling you, it is beyond corny but they are captivated. As I set the table for dinner I caught a little glimpse of them all, sitting in a wee row just loving life, hanging out with Dave Benson Phillips and his big orange blow up chairs. I suppose there isn’t much they all enjoy in equal amounts at the exact same time these days. But in that little ordinary moment their hearts seemed so full and they looked so tight and content. And I walked back into the kitchen a little lighter than before.

*

We were getting ready to walk up to school, faffing around with coats and bags and shoes. Then in came Noah, all ready to go….with a big rubber ring on round his little waist. ‘Oh Noah’ I said, ‘Why you wearing that?’ He looked at me like I was an idiot and declared, ‘It’s for if we get flooded. I’ll be okay with this on Mummy.’ Autumn fell about laughing and I said ‘Right well, that’s good news isn’t it wee man….’
I’d been a bit tense that morning, just the wrong side of bed sort of stuff. But I ask you, how can you stress out when there are rubber ring wearing flood protection safety officers around? How can you not grab whoever is closest for a great big bear hug?

*

Noah, Autumn and I sat in the Dentist’s waiting room and he had bravely said ‘I’ll go first!’ but as we were ushered into the treatment room Noah saw the reclining grey chair, he inhaled the funny smell and clapped eyes on the large tray of tools, then announced, ‘Em you go first, Mummy’

‘We’ll just do a quick x-ray, Mum’ said the dentist. She made me bite down on this weird black plastic contraption and then said ‘Come on outside kids, just for a second’. They followed her out giggling but then my daughter stopped in the doorway, looked back and said ‘You okay, Mummy?’

I couldn’t really speak with the big thing in my mouth so I said ‘uh huh’ as best I could and gave her a thumbs up. It was only a few seconds but I could see she was a little unsure why they were on one side of the door and I was on the other. I could sense her need to make sure I was happy with proceedings. I felt loved and cared for.

*

‘Here you go, Poppy’ he said quietly as he broke off the end of his Kit-Kat and passed it to his baby sister. She looked at him, mystified and crazy-eyed at this chocolate treasure being passed in her direction. And then a quiet whisper ‘Ta Ta’.

She held onto that piece of Kit-Kat for about twenty minutes, carrying it round the floor, her precious chocolate smush. I stood silently folding a mountain of tumbled clothes as quickly as I could, smoothing out wrinkles to save any ironing (yes I am one of those people who do everything in their power to resist ironing).

He’s giving her his kit-kat! I thought to myself. He’s quietly sharing!  It was enough to undo the crazy nonsense from all the other days. It was a little quiet moment that was enough to reassure me – Love exists in our house! Kindness is alive and well! We are doing okay!

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*

She sat perched up on the window ledge watching her tv show The Dengineers (there were seats but I am over it). Her hair was up high in a ponytail, scruffy curls and messy in the most natural and beautiful way. She still had her dance class clothes on, her black t-shirt and comfy jogging bottoms and little Converse boots. She had the sleeves of her t-shirt rolled up just a little. I pretended I was watching her tv show too, but really I was just watching my daughter and thinking all of the thoughts.

How has she got so grown up?

What is it that makes her heart so beautiful?

How can I see her as a baby and a teenager and a child all at once?

What if she starts staying in her room all the time?

What if I embarrass her?

Am I being a good mum to her?

And so I just stared at her. I made big eyes at my husband to look at her too. And he knows it. He sees it. Our daughter is growing up every single day and in that little fleeting moment there was a mix of pride and sadness and amazement and worry and fear and beauty that made my eyes water and my heart burst.pic 2

*

My dad called round to have dinner with us (although that is misleading because we were ordering a giant feast from the chippy). He was messing about with Autumn and announced he had a pound for her piggy bank!  He took a while to find it, searching in all his pockets and the little back pack he carries. ‘Don’t worry Granda’ she said, ‘It’s alright if you can’t find it. I don’t mind.’ My dad is 75 years old and I could tell he was a bit annoyed he had lost it. ‘Sorry Autumn, I just don’t know where it’s gone. I thought I put it in my pocket…..’ There was a bit of a lull and then, great news – the pound was found! My dad looked truly relieved and delighted and then Autumn said, ‘Oh thanks very much Granda. This is great’ and I knew she really meant it.

*

There is nothing overly significant about these stories and images. You will have many more. But when I stop and slow down long enough to allow a few special ordinary images to rise to the surface I feel rich in the stuff that really matters. I feel like everything I hold dear is in line with everything I believe in. I feel sure that the simple ordinary moments are quite simply hope on a plate- because in the midst of the chaos and the mess I experience true kindness, compassion, authentic love and care. I see holy hope and power offered and exchanged between cheerful little souls and worn out, stressed out adults.

I suppose the gift of small ordinary moments is nothing new, but maybe it just seems harder to cultivate it in our culture of rush and distraction. I like the idea of hearts full of experiences but it just seem less likely when my hands are so full of stuff and my calendar is so full of appointments. Maybe big belly laughs aren’t noticed as much above the sounds of tweets or texts or email notifications or indeed our blaring tv. Maybe the joys found in the daily process just get lost in a whoosh of hurry trying to reach the end goal.

But when I let those ordinary moments rise then the pressure to be perfect just falls away. I feel a sense of freedom returning and it allows me to see the hearts and minds of those around me, in all of their beauty and wonder.

When I let the ordinary moments rise then the expectation for bigger and better lessens and I delight in just who my people are as they are, rather than anxiously manipulating for more.

When I let the ordinary moments rise it heightens my awareness of what really matters and so the simple act of sharing the grubby end of a kit-kat has the ability to stop me in my tracks.

This lingering around ordinary moments is not time wasted, it is holy work. It reminds me I hold the Kingdom in my tomato soup and pancake covered hands. Which is of course, extraordinary.

And so I will keep letting them rise.

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Gold, Frankincense and Paracetamol

Last year my friend bought me a copy of Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. It is the most beautiful book that thoughtfully guides you through Advent with stories, questions and glorious illustrations.

I was so excited to spend time with my daughter Autumn and make our way through it this December.

I love it. She loves it.

But last week for three nights in a row we just didn’t manage to read it.

One night I was sick.
One night I was out.
One night I was brain dead and read Father Christmas Needs a Wee, instead.

(insert sad emoticon. The one with the streaming tears)

And then I sent Noah to nursery with his pyjama bottoms on under his trousers. I don’t even know how it happened. 

All the mums from Autumn’s class chipped in to buy the teacher a decent present. A brilliant idea! But I forgot to give my tenner in.

I’ve had lots of ideas for Christmas crafts and art and baking. But it seems The Grinch is always on and that’s just easier.

Our tree stands tall and twinkly in the front room. And next to it is a pile of washing so big I keep closing the blinds so no one will see it as they walk past our house.

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I went to Noah’s little nursery Christmas Sing-along and it was so sweet. He was dressed up as a reindeer standing at the back and he knew all the words. But then I left my handbag behind. It was full of vouchers that I haven’t even had chance to spend yet. 

On Thursday I did five school runs. Coats on, boots on, gloves on, buggy out, rain cover on, heating off, tree lights off  – five times. By trip number five little Poppy had this look on her face that said ‘you gotta be kidding me, Mummy’

Yesterday morning, Poppy fell off Autumn’s bed. There was crying and panic and much reassuring. Autumn and I argued about who was at fault. ‘It was mine!’ she declared. ‘No!’ I said, ‘it was mine,  it was totally Mummy’s fault!’
My husband just rolled his eyes and went back to bed.

I’ve swapped the Mulled Wine for Lemsip because my throat is busted. Forget the presents and just pass me the Paracetamol, people. I forgot how Winter means there is always one child taking the bright yellow ‘banana flavour’ medicine. My dressing gown is covered in the stuff- a testament to the incessant infections experienced in our house.

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I read lots about simple and slow at Christmas time and I whole heartedly agree. I am wired to notice and engage, constantly searching for significance amongst the crazy of this season that seems to start in October. Slow is good. Simple is good.

But I also feel swept up in rush with teeming school calendars and appointments and to-do lists. I am overwhelmed with sickness and tiredness. The pace just seems to be relentless. I can’t quite work out how to do simple and slow this year.

Is it just me or does everyone feel like hibernating?  Most evenings, I’m ready for bed by about 7.45pm (except of course when Homeland or The Apprentice is on, in which case I will still be in bed- but with the lap top and a massive bag of crisps.)

I run this Parentalk group in our home on a Monday night. Six mums meet for cups of tea and mini Chocolate Yules and we bash through how the heck we can be better mums and share tips for staying sane and discuss discipline and good communication and we listen to helpful talks on a DVD.

Without fail there are three words uttered by each of us every single week.

IT’S REALLY HARD.

It’s just really hard to be excited all the time and listen to everyone all the time and stay on top of everything and remember everything and try harder at everything and not completely lose it. The truth is we are all just totally working it out as we go and we feel like most people seem to have a better handle on things than we do.

Furthermore – when the motherhood season and the festive season combine, the majority of us are not walking in a winter wonderland. No, we are walking in Abbeycentre AGAIN, our clothes tinged with the bright yellow medicine, staring straight ahead like complete nutjobs, just praying someone finds our handbag.

How can a mum of three little people experience the peace of Christ at Christmas? 

Well, how did Mary, having just given birth in a barn, experience the peace of Christ? Delirious and enthralled by her new miracle baby, yes of course – but also bewildered, exhausted, cold and uncomfortable. Proud and incredulous as the shepherds shared words about her child, a Saviour to the world, the Messiah! But also, she was a new mum which meant she was so sore and unsure and nervous.

And yet God’s peace and joy filled her heart because her heart belonged to God.

And if He has your heart then you have His presence.

It’s with you, it’s all around you, it’s on you and in you.

Listen, of course I will find moments to be still and dial down the crazy this Christmas. I will make good choices and say no to some stuff in order to retreat and remember and be thankful.

But mostly Christmas will be loud and busy and untidy. There will be tears and fights, tired bones and dark circles and paracetamol.

And I can still experience the peace of Christ.

Because, just like all year round, I carry the presence of God into every room. My heart belongs to Him and so every situation is filled with His Spirit. He walks with me right into the mess. It’s a lie that says God only comes in the quiet, in the calm, in the tidy and organised. Because that very Christmas night God came in a stable and it was far cry from serene and perfect.

My faith is being lived out in the frazzle because that’s what life looks like right now and God hates when I pretend otherwise and do life without Him.

Brushing my teeth this morning I was a little on edge, frustrated as the kids ran rings around me, annoyed that advent is just whizzing past, clinging onto dates I cant remember and cards I forgot to post.

And that’s when I heard it. During the most ordinary and routine part of my morning I heard these words, spoken right into my innermost being:

‘I’m here. You’re not missing me.
I know you love the quiet. I know you love the simple.
And I know you love your kids and they are excited and loud and taking just about everything you’ve got right now and that’s okay.
You’re not missing me, Tory.
Grace and peace are my gifts to you this Christmas.
Grace and peace are yours in every circumstance.
Carry my presence. Lean into my peace. Keep listening for me.
I have your heart. You have my presence.
I am with you.’

Real Wisdom (or why I need Mr Potato Head)

I have three children but Noah is my only boy. With his soft skin, squidgy fingers and little cheeky grin, he is obviously the cutest three year old I know.
Because in the morning Noah will say ‘Aww, not yet mummy’ and pull you into his smelly little IKEA bed for a cuddle. When you read him a story he sits beside you with one hand resting on your leg. Always. Autumn is his big sister and also his best friend. With Autumn around he is slightly brave but on his own, slightly vulnerable. He is that wonderful mix of mischievous and inquisitive. And as much as Noah enjoys our world he also spends a lot of time off somewhere else….Adorable.

But there’s a pay-off to all this cuteness!

It is fair to say that at times I can find Noah challenging. My mum calls him a loveable rogue.

He can flit between completely ignoring me and being downright defiant. To Noah it’s simple -his voice is for shouting, his hands were made to lob stuff and his legs for running, climbing, stomping.

His energy is endless. And if there isn’t anything to say then he’ll just fill the silence with what I can only describe as a nasal ‘Heeehhhhh. Heeehhhhh.’ Toys are more fun when you can just smash them all together until they break. Oh and his vocabulary has greatly increased this year to include this-

‘You smell like a stinky bum bum.
I’m gonna pull your head off. And then sit on it.
No. You’re not the boss.
will keep throwing the ball at the tv.
I will keep ignoring you.
I will keep rubbing this dark chocolate Kit Kat all over my face and shoving it into your pale grey cushion.
I will keep butting in when Autumn is telling one of her long and  boring stories.
I will keep dipping bits of my dinner into my juice cup and declaring that it is nice.’

And I believe this is all perfectly natural behaviour. Just a phase.

And it’s probably natural that I am finding this a little bit ‘new’. His older sister is a real people pleaser and, to be honest, even a stern look can devastate her.

Noah couldn’t really care less about my stern look. In fact, he’ll probably mimic my look and say ‘Mummy is doing this at me.’  (insert fits of laughter)

But a while ago I saw this Mr Potato Head thing.

It was somewhere online, a photo shared, a pretty simple idea. Mr Potato starts out empty with no bits attached but gradually, as you notice certain qualities and characteristics in your child, Mr Potato begins to get the bits and pieces back on again.

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This looks good, I thought. Noah would like this.

And so I narrowed it down to four things to make it easier for him and a bit more achievable I suppose!

He gets the big blue feet for walking feet, gentle feet, careful feet.
The hands are awarded when I see helpful hands, caring hands, sharing hands.
The mouth is for using kind words, agreeable words, friendly words.
The ears are for listening ears- listening to mummy and listening to other people.

When I notice something I make a massive deal about it and he gets a little piece. His sister, as always, is his biggest cheerleader and so she is on the look out, too. Never underestimate the power of a six year old who is on board with your behaviour management strategy! Genius.

I know it’s probably just the right concept at the right age. Not a big deal, really. Temporary success perhaps! Just a big plastic potato with a few incentives to behave.

Or maybe it’s more than that.

Because lately, I feel like Mr Potato Head is reminding us to do the hard work of getting along with each other. And man, is it hard work. I think Mr Potato Head might be about encouraging us to be gentle and kind, to listen, to take our time with each other. Mr Potato Head is both reminding and encouraging both of us, Noah and I, to treat each other with dignity and honour.

Noah needs this. I need this. We all really need this.

Because with three small kids I have two goals- I pretty much do whatever is quickest and easiest. On the surface these are good goals. But in reality, it often looks like a lot of shouting ‘No!’ or yelling ‘Stop that!’ or ‘Come on, hurry up, Noah!’ It looks like a lot of shoving and puffs of exasperation and eye rolling and muttering stuff under my breath.

What takes a lot more time is stopping to notice Noah sharing his juice with baby Poppy and praising him for that. Then fetching a white plastic hand and fixing it to the side of a plastic potato. Then talking about what we are doing and why.

What takes a lot longer is asking him to tell me all about those pink listening ears. It takes time to have a bit of chat about how listening well can make our day go smoother. And then I need to think up some special mission which may or may not result in a pink ear!

The point is no yelling. But more time, some gentle conversation, some thought and patience.

It’s not really that hard but you know what? If I’m continually hurried and stressed then it actually becomes impossible. I just can’t do it. I resort back to the shouting and losing my temper in a frantic attempt to make him do what I need him to do. Which says more about me than it does about Noah.

Because this wee man literally can’t get enough of Mr Potato Head.

I think about the ways I can be firm but also gracious and reasonable.  I think perhaps this road is longer. I think from the sidelines this road often looks soft and a bit weak and sort of pointless. But in the end, on this road there is often a lot less isolation and a bit more understanding. And that is never a waste.

So, Mr Potato Head has been helping us out with this. And boy, do I need help.

Because to give Noah a plastic mouth for his kind words and then yell at my husband to get out of my face doesn’t really work. I cannot preach about gentle hands and then slam all the doors in our house in anger and frustration. When my daughter asks for help to get her school tights on I can’t tut in her face and roll my eyes at her incompetence.

My kids aren’t stupid. They will smell a rat. And they are usually the first to let me know.

You see, at the back of Mr Potato Head there is a little flip down door. You can store all the bits inside if you want. The kind words, the listening ears and helpful hands are all still there, rattling around inside, but they’re hidden away.

And I bought the Mr Potato Head for Noah. But actually, I need reminded and encouraged with this stuff just as much as he does. I need help with the hard work of getting those bits and pieces out into the light.

It is worth slowing down for.

It is worth the extra time.

Perhaps, the culture of my home, my community and beyond depend upon it.

Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is
characterised by getting along with others.
It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings…
You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with
God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work
of getting along with each other,
treating each other with dignity and honour.
(James 3 MSG)