Think on these things

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Photo: Creative Commons/ withbeautiful

Unlike those who can briefly consider an issue, mull over it for a few minutes and move on, carrying on as usual with all the minutiae of life, work and family – like many others, my mind is overwhelmed by all that is going on in the world. For those who can’t help thinking and evaluating, or inwardly critiquing and projecting, last year’s events and the first few weeks of 2017 have barely allowed pause for rest.

From our political turmoil here to the stark leadership change Stateside; from the rise of Isis to the increase in humanitarian crises; from what appears to be an increasing legitimisation of sexism and racism, to the post-truth explosion spreading through social media; from the global economic uncertainty, to the housing and rent crisis – it just seems relentless. All that, in addition to the usual stories of violence, family breakdown, loneliness and poverty.

Even our churches and Christian communities are not immune to the onslaught of uncertain times and conflicting interests or beliefs. It’s easy to get caught up in the arguments that divide and that hurt. We’re often not the huge, happy family we’re meant to be; we read from the same Bible but people think differently from us.

And in this context, in this hive of anxiety and criticism and uncertainty, I’m reminded of the apostle Paul’s encouragement to us in his letter to the Philippians: to think on whatever is true, whatever is right and whatever is lovely.

I don’t think that this means we should simply ignore the big issues all around us or turn a blind eye to the suffering or injustice (as some suggest with the phrase: “I don’t watch the news, it’s too depressing”). There is a time and a place to consider all these things and to take action. Rather, I think the verse refers to our default state of mind; to the everyday, undercurrent feelings that set the tone in our spirit and souls.

It doesn’t mean we shy away from addressing the big issues (clearly, Jesus also never avoided the difficult stuff), but it’s being mindful of what dominates our mind; what pervades our spirit most of the time. Do I wake in the morning and think about God, sensing His presence, or do I wake up worried about the state of our world and its future?

I’m not advocating for a return to superficial, feel good Christian soundbites like: “Everything’s ok, God’s in control!” – smiley face – or: “Never mind about that, let’s just praise God!” God does mind about what’s going on in our world. He hates lying, violence and injustice (Proverbs 6:16-19 and Jeremiah 22:13). He weeps with those who weep (John 11:35).

In Isaiah the prophet describes Christ the Messiah as: “A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. Jesus never aligned himself to superficial, super-happy faith; he was moved by the people and situations around him. He showed anger, not just overturning tables in the temple, but also towards the Pharisees who were always trying to find fault (Mark 3:5). Jesus experienced frustration, just as we do.

But there is something about our faith that is steadfast, that holds us onto the rock of Christ through all the stormy change and turmoil. It’s not that we ignore the storm, but we don’t have to be swayed by it, we don’t have to be overwhelmed.

Like Peter, we need to try to focus our eyes on Christ as the waves rage around us, otherwise we’ll too easily find ourselves sucked under by the surrounding current, gasping for air, unable to fully function. When we’re overwhelmed by all that’s going on, we need to fix our eyes on Christ the truth – our God made flesh – who is the Word of God.

Whatever is right. Whatever is true. Whatever is good – think on these things. The word to the Philippians in another translation is “meditate” on these things. Our underlying thoughts can be saturated by what is true and lovely, even when all that surrounds seems ugly or wrong.

So let me ask the question: how does Christ shape our thinking in this age of post-truth? Do we let Him, rather than the day’s latest news, overwhelm our hearts?

Jesus is the light of the world. As the world seems to become ever darker and atrocities abound, His light becomes ever brighter as we reflect the Christ in us and shine to those around us through our words and actions. Are we letting his light shine through us in these times of fear and uncertainty?

10 Top Tips to Boost Mental Health in Children & Teens

mental-health

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

 

Post-it Note Marriage

Derek and Meredith from Grey's Anatomy

Derek and Meredith from Grey’s Anatomy

Every so often my husband and I have a little argument. It surfaces out of nowhere, often over something inconsequential, compounded by factors of little sleep or irritability. And in that moment, although things may have been running quite smoothly – we may have had some good times together lately – we let our guard down and what surfaces to the top and out of our mouths is something not very pretty and not very typical of us. The little argument turns instantaneously ugly.

Something like that happened to us just the other day. It happened to be February 14th – the day of celebrated love, but that’s just irony (and no, we weren’t arguing about anything related to Valentine’s Day). The issue itself wasn’t very important, it was more how our interactions went. He said something, I said something. He responded in a condescending way that made me feel very angry, made me feel like he was treating me like a child. At that, I snapped back with venom, throwing in a swear word to drive home the point about my displeasure at being spoken to in that manner. It was childish, it was embarrassing (especially as the boys were listening in, from the other room). And a couple of hours later we were laughing about it, thankfully.

Still, it can be alarming when you think about what you’re capable of saying or doing in the heat of a moment, and how things can change from peace and love to loathsome feelings in just a short while. In most marriages, a time will probably come when you feel absolute hatred towards your spouse – whether for a few moments or a few months. Everything they do or say may start to grate on your nerves, and you may begin to view them as the enemy, rather than the love of your life. They may even become the person you like least in your circle of friends and acquaintances.(Whilst I’ve only experienced these emotions momentarily, I’ve heard from others for whom it has been a longer term struggle.) How could someone you used to love with a passion become the object of your utmost annoyance and hate?

It’s at times like these that I’m reminded of a poignant scene in a very old episode of Grey’s Anataomy (season 5). As the lead characters’ wedding plans go awry due to a friend’s illness, Meredith puts together a light-hearted series of vows on a Post-it note – as a kind of informal wedding ceremony. One of them states the promise to ‘Love each other even when we hate each other’.

post it note

I love that vow – the sheer genius of the nuances contained in the statement – and think it should be written into every modern day wedding ceremony. It’s kind of funny and ridiculous, and yet so very true. Are you willing to overcome any difficulties and bumps in the road that lead to harbouring feelings of hate towards your partner, and aim to work through them, based on actions of persistent, unrelenting love – a love that continues to love against the odds? Knowing, beyond a doubt, that those negative feelings need only be temporary and that love can take root, be cultivated and blossom once again, through humility, patience and the winning of each other’s hearts– just as it first did in the beginning of the relationship?

It’s a risk to love, precisely because love can be rejected and trampled on. How crucial to accept that love in marriage will be assaulted at times from every angle – by pressures and circumstances, by people or situations, by moods and disagreements.

As I said, it’s surprising what you’re capable of when you’re under pressure. The incident with my husband in our kitchen drives home the fact that I am a flawed individual who is easily capable of sin – even that which I may have despised and criticised in others. I need to be very careful, and realise that it’s when I become smug or fall into pride about how good I am compared to others, that I can so easily fall into such sin. And when you mess up in front of others, in this case – my children – it serves as a reminder that you’re so fallible, which is a very humbling experience. Any masks of self-righteousness crumble away and there’s no hiding behind a squeaky clean image.

Yet, at the same time, such moments can allow you to recognise your own shortcomings and to develop gracious attitudes towards others who are struggling or who fall into behaviours that are less than godly. You can become more accepting of others.

Marriage is a perfect environment for the testing of one’s character – as two distinctly different people living in close quarters are forced to learn to give and take and reconcile their differences to enable some sort of harmony to flow. But simply co-existing is not a goal worth aiming for. Love should be the default setting in the relationship, where each one chooses to respond in love and affection rather than anything less, even when hate tries to bubble to the surface. And in Christian marriage that means leaning on grace and learning to love as Christ loves us. The more of Christ in us, the less breeding ground for hate to fester.

Sometimes we can learn something positive from a popular American TV series. In that one quote, all the marriage vows can be summed up. In embracing that one quote, we’re choosing to let love win.

Groped on a plane – that time I didn’t react

As readers express their dismay about the woman on a plane who was groped by another passenger while she slept, lamenting the fact that no-one reported the incident for up to 5 minutes, it immediately takes me back to my flight home from Majorca just a few days earlier. A pretty girl with long, dark hair tied back in a ponytail – around age 9 or 10, sat across the aisle from me – one seat in front. I watched her earlier in the flight as she played with a pink box filled with beads and craft items.

Towards the end of the flight, I witnessed something that enraged me. I was stuck into a good novel on my Kindle, but couldn’t help notice when a man, sitting two rows in front of her, who appeared to be either her father or step- father, came back to the girl’s seat and more or less sat on her lap to give her a sloppy kiss on the mouth. I glanced across briefly but continued to read. Then I frowned as I watched the man slide his left arm under her clothing to more or less grope her across the chest. I squirmed. If I’d been drinking tea, I’m sure I would have splurted it out on my lap.

I know many parents like to kiss their child on the lips; I get that. But this was more like an all out smooch bordering on snog.  When his hand sneaked up her sweater across bare skin and groped around, my eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets – all the while trying to contain myself from shouting ‘WHAT are you doing?!’ Alas, I chickened out; I didn’t intervene. But I glared, and when the man caught my eye, he got off her, with a smirk on his face,  and moved back to his seat, two rows ahead. The girl’s mum was sitting in the seat directly in front; she had an older sister across the aisle ahead, along with a younger brother or step brother. The family were sitting near to one another, but had obviously been split up on the seating plan.

The girl looked a bit uncomfortable, but also accepting of above said activity. This clearly wasn’t the first time. She clearly liked her dad/ step-dad and probably experienced conflicting emotions. During the last stage of the flight, she looked back at me a couple of times and I smiled at her; she smiled back – the unspoken exchange reflecting her acknowledgement that I was somehow ‘in’ on her predicament.  When I shared what had happened with my husband later on, he remarked:

“If he’s okay with doing something like that on a plane, can you imagine what he’s doing behind closed doors?’ I shuddered. Here was a pre-pubescent girl who was accustomed to a close relative putting his wandering hands under her clothes. Sickening. But I was scared. Should I confront the man and stir up a major conflict or altercation? Should I try to whisper to the girl and explain she should tell someone and get help? My three sons were sitting in the row behind her, but hadn’t seen the misdeed. I have no idea if anyone else witnessed what happened. The man would probably argue that he was just hugging his daughter. The incident had occurred in just a matter of seconds – 10-15 at most. Was I overreacting? I’d seen such scenarios before,  on a train or bus – but usually between consenting teens or inebriated twenty-something adults.

In the end, I decided to tear off a section from a page of a magazine and write the girl a note. It went something like this:

Hello,  Just to say I saw what happened and that you don’t have to let anyone touch you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. Your body belongs to you – not anyone else – even anyone in your family.  Contact Childline. Hope that helps. Take care.

I wanted to add the phone number at the end, but my phone was in flight mode, and I wouldn’t be able to look it up online. And then I struggled with deciding on the appropriate moment to pass her the note. Should I give it her straightaway or wait until the end of the flight? What if someone in her family noticed and thought that I was a dodgy person? Dilemmas! In the end, I popped the note in my pocket and thought I’d wait ‘til we were all at baggage claim, where I could disappear into the crowds and make a hasty exit.

But by the time the plane landed and we went through passport control, popped to the loos and tried to organise ourselves, I lost sight of the girl and her family and completely forgot. It wasn’t until we went to collect our car, that my fingers felt the folded note in my jacket pocket and I felt a major twinge of regret. I had done nothing. I’d observed, I’d reacted and I’d told my husband. But I did nothing to protect this girl from something tantamount to child abuse.  But I didn’t think I had enough to nail the guy. It would just be my word against his, as he’d brush off his actions as merely an affectionate cuddle. At the same time, I realised that this guy was probably a good father 90% of the time. The children looked happy and well looked after. Should I really stir up a hornet’s nest, potentially leading to this girl being removed from her family?

It’s been bugging me for several days, as I rethink how I should have responded differently. I’m now convinced that I should have confronted the man then and there about the inappropriateness of his actions. At least then, the girl would have seen that others did not consider their activities normal and acceptable. At least then, he would have realised that others might be prepared to challenge him. Hindsight is always 20/20.

Instead, the man probably went home feeling invincible. He could do what he liked with the young girl in his charge.  It made me realize how many others must be going through similar scenarios across the country every day.  And it’s up to us to stand up and defend the helpless and confront the perpetrators of such abhorrent behaviour.  What would you have done?