The Brave, the Strong & the Mighty

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The brave are not those who propel their bodies at breakneck speed from coiled expanding rope
Or who neither fear nor flinch from the scariest scenes on screen
The strong are not those who lift great weights or who can hold their breath under water at length
Or who can run a 5 minute mile or build a car or a high tower
The mighty are not those who can scale formidable mountains or rule a nation
Or who make the greatest impression
Or can make a million or maybe tame a hungry lion

No, the brave are those who walk the shiny floors of hospital corridors
Who come face to face with desperation, degeneration or decay
Yet stay and hope or pray
Who make the most of each and every day
Searching for hints of goodness pushing through life’s dirt
And refuse to sigh and walk away

The strong are those who extend hope and healing to the weak and broken
Who get their hands dirty for the sake of showing love, and open
Their arms and eyes to you
Keep hoping
They find meaning in the mess, the madness
Who wipe a brow and squeeze a hand
And advocate for those with no strength of their own

The mighty are the ones who relentlessly pursue justice for the few
Who don’t just talk – but do
Who speak for those without a voice or a choice
And don’t run from hardship or pain, and
Who forgo comfort for the future gain
Of seeing the fruit of love in action
Who know what it means to keep pressing on
When everything’s against them, they find a way to carry on

The brave, the strong and the mighty –
They don’t seem special from the sidelines
They’re mostly under the radar
Without fanfare, fame or acclaim
They just keep on keeping on
Their spirits surging, their hope their song
Undeterred by life’s assaults, they find a way
In the silence, hanging by a thread, they give their all

And if they were to disappear
You’d miss them intensely before they’d barely gone
These are the brave souls, the strong friends, the mighty helpers
Who always think of others above themselves
These are the true winners
Driven by compassion, bathed in light and love
Ever ready to pull others up
They are the ones you can rely on
In your trouble or hour of need

The strong can face any mountain
Overcome it with gritty persistence, with determination
Though they feel your anguish and sense the pain
They will never walk away
The brave promise to go the distance
And always listen
Through the dark of the night
To walk beside you
Through every challenge, every bitter fight
They’ll stay, they’ll be a light
Ever hopeful to the end

The mighty get knocked down
But they get up again

A Voice for Good// Thoughts from the Public Leadership Weekend

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What do you get when you walk into a room and mingle with a former barrister, a councillor, a children’s entertainer, two Christian radio DJs, a provider of GP training, a nutritional therapist and an eclectic member of the General Synod?

Well – apart from the opportunity for endless, enlightening conversation – you discover that these are only half the fascinating men and women of different ages and diverse backgrounds who’ve also signed up to attend a Public Leadership media training weekend. If you’re a more ordinary mortal like me, who dabbles in education or writing while juggling life as a parent, or someone who might hesitate to consider such an event – even though you can’t resist the calling – then you need to think again.

After first reading about the weekend, I was hooked. The central theme of being ‘a voice for good’ has resonated with me ever since I had my first article published in a local New Jersey paper back in 2000, through to the time when I began a blog or when I delved into PSHE teaching (an unusual option for a Christian) several years ago. And yet, I felt inadequate. I’m not at the top of my field(s) like many who would be going to the event. I’ve purposefully avoided some opportunities to lead as it conflicts with family life and have often taken on voluntary roles in the last several years alongside part-time work. So, what right did I have to even apply? I don’t know, but I finally shut out that fear and went ahead with the application. Still, I had my doubts and considered pulling out.

I’m so glad I didn’t. My mind remains in overdrive after taking in all that was covered at the conference – which managed to successfully incorporate high quality talks, devotions, discussion, group activities and role play into a worthwhile, challenging weekend. And still allow time for eating and drinking! (And a few dips in the pool for some.)

The content covered current political, theological and practical issues pertaining to the development of Christian voices in the media, with much opportunity to think, reflect and share a timely and vital conversation. And yes, the name of Trump did crop up in that context! All the speakers, who included a communications director and a former Radio 4 journalist, were incredibly engaging and motivating. The potential for influence through engagement in public life was highlighted in different ways as each contributor shared their knowledge and experiences, including pitfalls and lessons learned along the way.  I would have readily listened to every single one for twice the length of time that they were allotted. No mediocre talks here whatsoever!

A standout feature for me at this event was definitely the interactive nature of the programme. We weren’t just talked at but were continually encouraged to take part, to contribute our experiences and to ask questions of ourselves and others. For instance, one group task involved examining the day’s newspapers and discussing the content, and to look for any positives (a distinct lack of which was found) as well as the story perhaps not being reported.

I also learned so much from the other attendees, each of whom brought a unique dynamic and perspective to the sessions. The focus throughout seemed positive and boundary breaking – in the sense that we seemed to be caught up in something momentous. There were several injections of humour, too, along with chances to chat over meals that fostered unity and common vision, despite our disparate interests and occupations. The spiritual dimension was intentionally at the core of this weekend, drawing our minds repeatedly back to biblical concepts and examples of godly leadership throughout Scripture.

We discovered practical ways to play a part through learning to communicate better and how to engage well with the media. The language we use, for example, is a crucial part of whether the things we say will be well received. Neill Harvey-Smith talked (via video link) about how Jesus had extraordinary insight into people’s lives. “We need to become people who are brilliant at insight…experts at what motivates and interests people,” he said. How can we “reach into the culture in which we live?”

The weekend has given me the kick I needed to take that next step and be ready to speak up, and I’m sure that I’ll be better equipped as a result of the training. The role play session was particularly challenging and enlightening and I’m so glad I had the chance to take part in such an activity (with a professional radio interviewer). I discovered the importance of injecting personal story and avoiding focussing on the negative. Christopher Landau advised us to “be alive to the context, the audience you’re trying to reach.”

My main thoughts by the end of the weekend encompassed the sheer wonder at all the potential in one place, and the names and faces of people I know who would equally benefit from attending a future event. Dr Dave Landrum’s final encouragements included “Taking responsibility for where God has called you” and “leading change intentionally”, while emphasising the need to be resilient and to take a long view into the future.

I may be biased, but as far as weekends or Christian conferences go, the Public Leadership weekend is a cut above the rest. Look into it here.

 

10 Top Tips to Boost Mental Health in Children & Teens

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There’s been much in the news lately about mental health services in the UK that are overstretched and unable to support all children and young people promptly due to under-funding and under-staffing. While the state of children’s mental health is reaching crisis point in some regions, and increased pressure from school and social media is blamed for this development, parents are desperate to know how they can help their child or teen who may be struggling. Depression and anxiety are on the rise in under 18s.

This post is not meant to provide medical support or guidance, and I strongly advise that young people are seen by a GP and referred for specialist support if they are in crisis. This list is more of a recommendation for parents and carers whose child is currently coping well at this time or may be starting to show signs of poor mental health. These are things that I try to practice with my own children and that I discuss with them as part of their overall health and well-being.

The best things I believe you can do to foster good mental health in children and teens (in no particular order):

  1. A balanced, varied and mostly healthy diet – to include good fats such as fish and nuts. Avoid low fat everything, growing bodies benefit from consuming butter and full fat yoghurt or milk. And of course greens. If you have a fussy eater, just keep buying the one green vegetable that they will eat, e.g. my sons always liked broccoli but would never touch cabbage or courgettes. I’m sick to death of broccoli in meals, but can be assured that my kids are ingesting enough folic acid! However, do not obsess over food (which may also lead to anxiety in some individuals). Occasional junk food never harmed anyone, just try to keep things balanced.
  1. Sufficient sleep. That means enforcing some bedtimes, especially during the week. All those times I’ve ever felt really low always coincided with seasons of interrupted or lack of sleep. A child or young person that is not getting enough sleep regularly will find that it affects their concentration, their mood and their ability to handle tough situations or disappointment. Read more about that here.
  1. Helping them find their niche/thing that they love – whether that’s animals, skate-boarding, singing, acting, gardening, writing, volunteering, whatever…encourage them in that. (It’ll mean trying out lots of stuff but many activities are free, so keep on the lookout for information around your community, at the library etc.) Offer to help your child with their hobbies and pursuits and show an interest in what they love (even if model aeroplanes or horses are totally not your thing). Engaging in meaningful activities will help improve mood and is promoted by occupational therapists. More on that here.
  1. Socialisation. Encourage them out the house to meet other people, engage, do stuff. Get them involved in any neighbourhood or local events/ festivals/ special events in town. Keep them coming to family get-togethers and celebrations even if they’re bored at the thought of visiting their auntie or second cousin. Ask them to join you with an activity or help at an event. Getting out and having face to face interaction is a crucial part of optimum mental health. Find out more here.
  1. a) Limited screen time – especially for under 12s. Too much screen time makes for grumpy kids who lose passion for anything else in life. Tip: no gadgets in bedrooms overnight. Set Wifi limits, so it switches off at a pre-determined time on their devices (Don’t worry, it won’t affect YOUR Wifi access!) This will help immensely with no 2. Once the Wifi’s gone, most have no further use for their device. Also, encourage them to use the internet more to help them with no 3, or to learn skills and be creative (you can learn to do anything on YouTube) rather than just consuming media all the time. Warn them of the pitfalls of social media and wanting to be liked. Keep under 12s far away from social media, they are too young to handle it.
    b) Also keep porn away from your children by installing everything you can get your hands on. (Link to help with that) Porn is depressing and negatively impacts motivation. Read here and here. Teenagers will inevitably come across it, but at least you’ve done your best to protect them as children.
  1. Listen to your kids/teens. Spend some time with them on their own every day, even if it’s just a few mins. A good question to ask them: What was the best thing and the worst thing that happened today? Be supportive, no matter how trivial what they share seems. Above all, enjoy every positive interaction with your child. The negative interactions may be unavoidable, and sometimes the positive moments appear randomly, or you have to schedule them in. Either way, let your child or teen see that you just really like them, even if they’ve been annoying just half an hour earlier. (They know that you love them).
  1. Outdoor exercise and sunshine. Make opportunity for this as often as you can. Encourage teens to sit outside when it’s sunny to do revision. As a parent or carer, model this yourself; don’t lounge about on the sofa during all your free moments. Many young people look pale and may be lacking vitamin D due to spending most of their time indoors. And guess what? Low vitamin D levels are also linked to depression. (Read here.) Just bear in mind that vitamin D is a FAT soluble vitamin – hence the need for consuming some full fat products, otherwise it’s not fully absorbed by the body. (Refer to No 1).
  1. Positive, uplifting movies to watch together. Now and again find a film that promotes strength of character and of the human spirit, something that encourages empathy – e.g. The Hundred Foot Journey, August Rush or The Lucky One. Or check out some from this list. Even if it’s not their type of thing, coax them with popcorn or say you’ll watch their choice of movie next time. And teens are never too old for the occasional feel-good, family flick. The same goes for uplifting songs and music.
  1. Homework stress busters. Offer to help with ideas for how to complete homework more quickly, e.g. good websites to look at, how to plan an essay, suggestions for revision. I recommend a short burst of exercise (e.g. Pogo stick or trampoline) prior to homework, to send oxygen to the brain and boost serotonin levels right before getting stuck into something they might hate. Yep, that ties in with number 7 nicely. Also, do NOT encourage perfectionism with homework. A good job is good enough. Education is important but homework is only a small part of that. Discourage teens from spending all evening doing homework; make time for some downtime.
  1. Read books. When they’re younger, read to them, then read with them. When they’re teens, encourage them to read at least one book in each of the school holidays. Hand them something you’ve read that you’d recommend. When you’re on holiday, maybe have book nights where you read a chapter of something together out on the deck or balcony or outside your tent. Reading is pure escapism from the day to day drudgery or stresses of modern life and has been shown to make you happier.

All the above may not be able to prevent depression or mental disorders in a person who is predisposed to them, but these suggestions can certainly help to bolster a healthy mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Love

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Neither bullets nor bombs

Neither peril nor storms

No person, no problem, no harm, no scorn

can separate us from the love

 

Neither life nor death

Neither darkness nor last breath

No danger, no stranger, no blues, no bad news

Can separate us from the love

 

Neither sickness nor strife

Neither fist nor knife

No statement, no hatred, nothing secular or sacred

Can separate us from the love

 

Neither borders nor barriers

Neither heights nor limits

No politicians, no saints, no rulers, no cynics

Can separate us from the love

 

Neither future nor past

Neither status nor class

No law, no dictator, no lover, no hater

Can separate us from the love

Of our Father God, through Christ the Son

 

Death & the Purpose of Living/ Poem

This is a poem I wrote for Good Friday and read this afternoon at my son Dan’s baptism…

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Death hangs in the balance
Shifting tentatively between the
Living
here and now
And closer to beyond
towards eternity

He swings
further in that direction
Every soul
Not just the elderly, the sick, the weak, the dying
Each day, everyone
is moved one step closer
To final destiny
Door to breathing closed
completely

As pendulum swings us
nearer to
meeting our Maker

Make the days count
Let them find meaning
For that is the true
Purpose of living
A life hidden in Christ
For Christ IS meaning

Giving up, surrendering, losing
Is actually
Winning

That, the paradox of faith
Dying to self now
Propels to a Future
and a Now with the
Creator of everything

Death is not the ultimatum
Christ overcame cross
Orchestrating gain from loss
Life outlives death
All is not lost

We are His purchase
Bonded, reborn
made new

At Easter it is declared
Death is fleeting, it’s
Not the End, only
The Beginning and
We all are granted
Reasons for living

Life is bonded to Christ
Through this symbol of baptism
The past does not define
Limits cannot defy
Fear cannot despise
Who we are in Him
No force can diminish
Dark Friday could not relinquish
No one can ever prohibit
His power
At work in us

Only in choosing
To die in these waters
Do we find how to truly
Start living

The Spirit descends like a dove
We are transported above
The supernatural becomes the normal
And we are flooded in
His unending
All-encompassing
Unrelenting, sacrificial
Amazing Love

Love that never fades
never dies
When all else fails
Love holds us, Love guides
and keeps us
Through storm and valley
Through darkest night

The imagery of Good Friday is Cross
Blood, sweat and tears
But for the rest of your years, Dan
Good Friday symbolises
Loss of the old life
And ahead with a new, baptised you
Going forward in faith
Set apart for Christ
This is the start of your New Life

Don’t look back
When doubts creep in
Fix your eyes on the Cross
Stay focused on Him
His love is enough
On this path of faith
Hold on to him
Stay rooted in grace
For This is your journey
This is your race

Remember your testimony
Stay firm in His Word
Til one day you meet
The crowned, nail-pierced Lord

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas – It doesn’t have to be perfect

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In all the preparation for slick singing and powerful performances during the festive season in churches across the West, and in the pursuit of creating amazing decorations, presents and fine food, it struck me how laid back God’s plans were for the birth of the Saviour of the world, far off in the dusty Middle East.

Mary and Joseph weren’t informed in advance to not bother trying for a room at Bethlehem’s inns. No, God let them experience the frustration and  disappointment of being turned away, and watched them simply trust him for the safe arrival of the promised Messiah.

We don’t read anything about fear or anxiety gripping the young parents’ hearts; simply that they pressed on and were happy to accept whatever alternative arrangements the innkeeper could make for them. They didn’t complain about the provision they were offered; they focused on welcoming their baby and settling down for the night.

The coming of the King of Kings wasn’t orchestrated with much fanfare and hype. (Except for the chorus of angels when they made their announcement to the humble shepherds – and, even so, not everyone got to witness this wondrous display in the night sky.) The actual birth was a simple affair in a rustic setting, something that reflects the nature of our God. Jesus – God in human form – chose to dwell among regular people in  an average part of town. He could have been born in the finest palace. But God chose a manger in a basic spare room, most likely a barn.

This Christmas it’s good to remember that God’s not looking for perfection, but rather willingness to follow his calling and readiness to accept circumstances that might seem strange, whilst knowing that he’s got it all figured out. We don’t have to know what’s coming next or how everything will work out; that’s God’s job. We can find the Prince of Peace and experience supernatural calm when we focus our hearts and minds on him. Even when our plans go wrong and the perfect Christmas, or family, or life doesn’t materialize. Christ wants to meet us in our mess, in his time and in his way.  Are we ready to welcome him in the stillness, away from all the season’s noise?

You Can’t Buy Joy// FaithWalk

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(c) photocillin/ Flickr

At this time of year there’s a pressure from retailers and advertisers to persuade us that happiness can be bought. In all our frenzied gift buying and searching for the ideal thing or gadget, we take delight in knowing that the faces that we see unwrapping those gifts will reflect heightened happiness – that is, if we’ve chosen well! – on Christmas morning.

But joy is something beyond happiness. It cannot be bought, it cannot be faked – it’s a deeper, richer state of being than happiness. It doesn’t depend on what we have or on our circumstances; it doesn’t depend on where we live or our status in society. This doesn’t mean that we won’t experience problems or pain – but the promise found in the Bible is that “Tears may flow in the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

Even when we’re dragged to the depths of despair and everything’s going wrong, joy wins. Paradoxically, joy can be an underlying state – the default setting for the Christian life that underpins our lives – even when, at times, it seems everything’s against us.

Westerners are often astounded by the joy on little kids’ faces on dusty village streets in poorer parts of Africa. They have so little, but their community and sense of fun reflects their inner joy.

Unlike happiness, which is often fickle or eludes us, joy keeps bouncing back. Much like oil which can’t be whisked or stirred away in water – joy can’t help but rise to the surface. At Christmastime we sing ‘Joy to the World’ because Christ has given us hope and given us meaning.

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Creative Commons – Justina Turpin

If Christ is in us and we have hope of his promises – joy bubbles to the surface, sending its rippling effects into the mundane or hopeless parts or life. It may not deplete all the bad stuff, but its presence is a tangible and noticeable force in the murky water of life.

The band Pentatonix, featured in the video below, have produced a brilliant, a capella rendition of that famous carol and enthused it with their own passion and energy. And joy is etched on their faces as they sing, even though they may not believe in the God who created them with smiles and shiny eyes to reflect His image and His glory. I’m sure that God who gave them lungs to breathe and voices to sing loves to hear everyone sing his praise, even if they don’t believe the words they’re singing.

While happiness is at the mercy of circumstances and dependent on feelings, joy is eternal. Even in the wealthy West, with all that we have and all the opportunities afforded us, we can still find ourselves unhappy.

The wonderful thing about joy is that it’s not about us; it’s about the person of Christ and it’s about our hope and our future – things that can never be taken away from us. Happiness is about me and how I feel, or whether others are making me happy; joy is found in Someone else whose feelings towards me don’t fluctuate.

This Christmas, Christians everywhere pause from all their shopping, parties and rushing about to focus on the One who came to bring peace, hope and joy. And that makes the greatest difference throughout the year, not just during the festive season.