I am a very lucky lady in the sense that I very rarely feel lonely. I have a good network of friends, other mothers and home ed groups so I am often surrounded by other people and when I am not I enjoy my own company and the company of my children. Loneliness and isolation are not feelings I often experience in my day to day life.
Unfortunately this morning I felt these things in the place you really aren't supposed to. Church.
Going to church with very young children has a lot of challenges. In the church I attend there isn't any childcare provision for under 3's. If you have an under 3 you have the option of staying in the service or sitting in the small chapel at the back of the church where some toys are provided and the sermon is wired through so you can hear it. For this reason I usually leave my littlest boy at home with his daddy on a Sunday so I can enjoy the service with the rest of the congregation and my two older children go off to junior church, I normally have a wonderful time.
When I bring my littlest one I prefer to stay in the service as I find it difficult to hear the sermon and join in with the singing etc from the chapel at the back. However this means I have to be towed round the church by the finger by my 1-and-a-half-year-old, whilst he explores every nook and cranny chattering to himself and making demands of me to go this way or that (a little bit embarrassing and uncomfortable to say the least although I know no one really minds). As I am sure you can imagine this is not very conducive to a spiritual experience. As it happened, this particular morning I was sat in the chapel at the back with my little one when the minister invited the congregation to pair up with a neighbour and discuss their experience of the holy spirit. I sat in the chapel, on my own. I felt forgotten and unheard. I felt like my voice, my opinion, my experience, as a mother didn't matter, wasn't important. No one else was there to hear my experience. I had no neighbour.
Now I love my church, it has been an incredibly welcoming place and I know this wasn't intentional and maybe on any other day this wouldn't have happened, there are often other parents in the chapel, but on this day there wasn't. I felt lonely and unheard and unseen.
Next the minister went on to pray and asked the congregation if they could close their eyes and raise their hand if they wanted to receive the holy spirit for the first time, or anew. I sat looking out of the chapel's glass doors whist putting together a farmyard puzzle with my boy feeling very far from the Holy Spirit. I felt like I was on another planet to everyone else there. Whilst everyone else was on planet holy, I was on planet mother.
("blessed are the weak in spirit for theirs in the kingdom of God" right?)
Now this isn't a blog post about how church should be doing more for mothers or about how motherhood isn't as revered or elevated in church as much as it should be. I could write a blog post about that, but this one isn't it. There is good news (Isn't there always when it comes to Christianity?!).
I was eventually towed out of the chapel and back to the general area of our seat where I was pleased to be able to take part in the final hymn. It was a special hymn to me called "How Great Thou Art". The words are magnificent and the melody very moving and it was played at my wedding.
(Incidentally "Guide Me Oh Thou Great Redeemer" was a hymn sung at our wedding and was sung at the wedding of Harry and Meghan yesterday, I just need to hear "Shine Jesus Shine" tomorrow for a full house!)
I started singing and belting out this fabulous old song and was completely uplifted, it brought tears to my eyes and I was struck with the message that I am not alone. I realised that I am not unheard, I am not unseen, I have not been forgotten.
Because even when it feels like I am invisible to everyone around me God sees me, God hears me, and God is with me, right here is the misery and majesty of motherhood.
He saw me yesterday as I cleared up a spilled drink for the third time that day, He saw me the day before that when I fell asleep on the sofa out of sheer exhaustion whilst trying to read my children a story. He saw me the day before that when I sat crying on the sofa because one of my children had moved and subsequently lost the back door keys moments before we needed to leave the house. And He saw me the day before that and the day before that and the day before that. And he saw me today being towed round church trying in vain to listen to the sermon, he saw me sitting with my baby as company whilst everyone else was in prayer, He saw me changing a nappy in the toilets whilst everyone else worshipped.
And do you know what mama? He sees you too.
You may not even believe it, but it's true. He sees you and He hears you and He loves you and He is with you and He has not forgotten you. And I really think He wants you to know he is by your side all the time, He feels every pain, heartache and struggle you go through, you are not alone, you are not forgotten. Even in the depths of loneliness, in the deepest trenches He is in the mud with us. Motherhood bring us to our knees and He is there right next to us holding our hand and wanting us to know that all this is worth something. When you have reached rock bottom and it feels like there is no way back up, when you are at your lowest low, when you feel totally alone, He is there, telling you to "hang in there mama" and "you've got this" and "I hear you" except it is so much more important and meaningful and 100% true from him, not just empty sentiments, but real true encouragement.
And you know what else, He can help us. If we ask Him He will help us up from that trench. He will take your hand and lift you back up into the light. Just ask. God is like the ultimate listening partnership. He listens and listens and listens and won't try to fix your problems or give you unsolicited advice or tell you it's all your own fault because of such-and-such a reason, or tell you about this one time when He had a really bad day (remember THAT day?!), but if you ask Him He will help you and he will speak to you, just be quiet and listen back.
He sees you, He hears you, He has not forgotten you, you are not alone.
Sunday, 20 May 2018
Thursday, 29 March 2018
Here was the premise:
We began the retreat with a little get to know you session, I asked each mama to write a question on a slip of paper to put in a basket and pull out one at a time, we had some really great questions including who would you invite to your fantasy supper? What is your favorite building? And Name an event in your live that changed you for the better. We didn't manage to answer all the questions so saved them for use later, but it was really great to find out more about everyone there and help them to relax and get to know each other better.
We then moved into the room that we were using as a studio and began our creative session with a guided meditation. I wrote the meditation myself based on the guided meditation in "The Rainbow Way" By Lucy H. Pearce. The meditation invited the mamas on a journey to their own inner sacred creative space where they could feel safe to express their creativity. After the meditation we began the storytelling art piece I had planned. This piece was based on an exercise created by The Dulwich Centre, designed to help vulnerable young people, and is now a process used around the world. I was also inspired by the words of Nathan B. Weller when I was writing my narrative for the guided piece. The point of this exercise was to help us to focus on different aspects of our life, how we spend our time, where we have come from, our skills, dreams, hopes and the legacy we intend to leave behind us when we're gone. All these make up our story. When I was planning the activity at home it helped me realise what is important in my life and where I need to focus my attention to make the most of my life. It also helped me realise what I have to give, and how little of my energy I positively spend working on the things I want to be my legacy.
We tried to maintain the meditative feel in the room and in our own head spaces whilst I read the instructions I had written for the art piece.
When the drawing and writing part of the process was complete we opened up the space for more conversation and we added colour with chalk pastels to our Tree of Life pictures. I chose chalk pastels because their colour is so pure and vivid. We filled in our trees with the colour to transform the piece from an illustration of a process into a piece of art that is visually appealing, inspiring and uplifting.
Beautiful finished pieces:
Aren't they beautiful, and all so different and colourful.
For the mamas to came to the retreat (and anyone else who has completed the Tree Of Life exercise, here are a few activities to take the experience further:
You may have done some journaling about this already as you completed your drawing of the tree, but you can add to this after by way of reflection. From writing about where you have come from you might need to journal a bit about how your upbringing has influenced you now both positively and negatively, you could consider how negative experiences have informed your life in positive ways. As you wrote down the things you do daily you might have noticed that there aren't many things you do just for yourself each day, you might like to journal about what ways you can include more things in your day that nourish you. When considering your skills you might want to write about what skills you want to develop or new skills you would like to learn. As you reflect on your values, you might like to journal about how you are instilling these values in you children and link this to your legacy. When reflecting on your hopes and dreams consider ways in which you can achieve them. You might have had thought of things you want to do to achieve the legacies that you wrote down; things to enable you to leave behind the things you want to pass on. You can journal and list these and form goals and schedules for you to achieve them.
You might like to consider writing letters to those people in your life who have passed on legacies to you. You could thank them for what they have done and let them know how important they are to you. You could also consider writing letters to your children telling them about the legacies you wish to leave them (something for them to read in the future).
You may have found yourself particularly inspired by the use of chalk pastels in this activity and would like to experiment with them further, here are some random time lapse videos on youtube to give you some ideas and inspiration:
Also take a look at Pinterest HERE for more chalk pastel inspiration.
You might have felt inspired by the idea of trees and like to explore this further a google or Pinterest search will provide you with an abundance of inspiration and ideas. For example you could experiment with creating a blow paint tree like THIS, a hot glue gun tree like THIS, you could also explore wax crayon rubbings of the bark or leaves of the tree.
Another avenue you might like to explore in meditative art and healing art therapy.
Sunday, 11 March 2018
My mother is pretty awesome.
It's really only since I have been a mother myself that I have gained an insight into exactly how awesome my own mother is.
I have always been thankful for everything she has given me, my ethics, my faith, my passion for the environment, my resilience, my self-confidence, and everything else that I am because of her.
She would take us to local farm shops to buy us fresh organic vegetables. She set up a wholefoods co-operative from her home so we could eat the best food she could get hold of. My mum always put us first paying for dance lessons, gymnastics, instrument lessons, and all the clubs and groups you could imagine, driving us here there and everywhere for lessons, exams and shows because she wanted us to have as many experiences as possible. She took us to church every week, nurturing our faith and helping us to become part of the family of Christ. When I suffered terribly with eczema she explored every alternative therapy possible and paid for Chiropractor visits when I suffered from back pain. My mum always encouraged me to give things a try and always do my best. She always encouraged me in school, helping me through my tears with late night maths homework, reading through my endless stories and marveling at my drawings and painting. She can knit, sew, do macrame, cross stitch, she made all my dance costumes, she is basically the embodiment of a supermum.
My mum was the ultimate imperfectly natural mama, She was always makeup free, never ashamed of her body hair, wasn't one for deodorant of perfume and thriftily bought almost all her clothes from charity shops, she also breastfed all of us and cooked virtually all our meals from scratch (including an array of puddings most nights if memory serves me correctly). She grew her own veg on her allotment, baked her own bread and dreamed of living a self sufficient life, with bookshelves filled with gardening books, recipe books and John Seymour self sufficiency guides. She was a full time mum but if never occurred to me to think I couldn't be anything I ever wanted.
Even now my mum continues to inspire me, she hasn't stopped or slowed down like some parents her age, she still works, volunteers, makes, and continues to learn new skills and gain more knowledge in all aspects of life.
It is only since becoming a mother myself I can look back in awe at my mum, a mum of four, who would take us all round the supermarket and not lose her shit. I do all my shopping online because the thought of taking even three children round Sainsburys is just too much! She never doubted her abilities, never sat weeping that she was doing it all wrong, there was no Facebook in the 80s and 90s to vent, rant or ask for advice. And yet we all four of us turned out pretty damn good even if I do say so myself. She absolutely did her best for us with the information that was available at the time.
She gave me the confidence to do things differently than everyone else, she taught me to swim against the tide and to stand strong and tall in the face of criticism of your beliefs. She taught me that it was ok to do the opposite of what everyone else was doing if you believed it was the right things to do. It is because of this that I have chosen to parent the way I do, natural term breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby wearing, home educating, gentle parenting with non-punitive discipline. It is because of her that I have perused a vegan lifestyle, trying to live the creative life and moving towards a more sustainable, self sufficient lifestyle. She didn't necessarily do all off these things herself (though I strongly believe that she probably would have given the luxury of access to the information about gentle parenting etc that I have,) but it is because of her, and not, as many might assume, in spite of her that I have.
So I want to say thank you mum, I am me because of you.