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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

A Time to be Kind

Photo: Creative Commons

Photo: Creative Commons

Do you have a moment?

It’s a question that may easily induce mild panic or annoyance in most people. What demand on our time or energy is going to be requested of us? We may smile outwardly and respond, while inwardly gritting our teeth.

I don’t mean those kind of moments – times when others are asking for a favour or want to talk intensely for a while. I’m talking about the little moments in-between the hubbub of activities that dominate our lives.

Our days are made up of everything from eating, drinking, sleeping, washing, work and chores to leisure pursuits, projects, plans, errands, to caring or managing, learning and doing. In between all this busyness, we often find ourselves faced with a moment. A person or situation observed where we could make a difference in some small, seemingly insignificant way.

A moment where we could walk by or a moment when we could engage.

In his gripping life story, ‘Ghost Boy’, Martin Pistorius tells of being imprisoned by his illness-onset disability, unable to communicate or manoeuvre his body, even after his brain functionality had been restored, unbeknownst to his carers. He tells of a time sitting in a car on the street, waiting for his father to return, when a man walked past and smiled at him. Used to being ignored and talked over, just this small, friendly gesture and acknowledgement of his existence restored his hope in humanity, giving him a reason to not give up on living. That one smile made a big difference not just to Martin’s day, but also his life.

Frequently we use our spare moments to read or to look at a screen; I know I like to use spare minutes to read the news or look at social media on my phone. On Sat, while visiting my elderly mother in a busy hospital ward, I was on the other side of the curtain while two nurses were carrying out a procedure on her.  I looked around at the other elderly women on the ward. One frail, white haired woman in the bed next to mum had been sniffing and lightly coughing. Looking around for nurses or auxiliaries, I saw none. All staff were otherwise occupied.

I decided to say yes to the compassion that rose in my heart and to engage.

“Are you cold?”

She nodded.

“Would you like me to find you another blanket?”

Again, a simple nod.

I went to the nearby reception desk and asked if I could take a clean blanket from the trolley for the lady by the window? A receptionist said yes.

Collecting one of the standard NHS blue blankets, I folded it in two and lay it on top of the coughing patient, also pulling up her sheets to cover her shoulders and neck. I asked her if she’d like some water to drink. Again, she nodded, so I picked up the plastic cup on her table and guided the straw to her lips. As I set the cup back down, she summoned up the energy to whisper ‘Thank You.’ My heart melted. What I did took less than a minute, but it meant a great deal to her. No visitor had dropped by to see her during the three and half hours afternoon visiting slot.

Kindness doesn’t necessarily take up a whole lot of our time or effort. Sometimes we just need to respond to that gentle call to action that stirs up within us during unsuspecting moments. I will certainly be grateful if other people visiting relatives on Ward 6 of James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston show kindness to my fragile mum.

We should never underestimate the power of small acts of kindness. Not only is the recipient of such acts blessed; the giver is also rewarded with an enormous sense of purpose. It’s in giving to others that our humanity is revealed and we glimpse something of our compassionate God, who loves to work in us and touch others through us.

The line from a song we’ve been singing at church recently kept resounding through my head later on – “Let heaven come.” When we show compassion and kindness, we experience evidence of God’s kingdom being revealed on earth. That’s when a part of heaven touches earth.

The Power of Purpose

Jo Malone (Photo: London Evening Standard)

I switched on Radio 4 this morning and caught the latter part of their Desert Island Discs programme. Successful perfume entrepreneur, Jo Malone, was being interviewed and talked about her struggle with cancer along with the decision to leave cosmetics giant, Estee Lauder – a move which meant signing a clause to stay away from creating fragrances for the next five years.

She went on to describe a difficult phase in her life, sometime into these years, which stood out from everything else she’d just been saying:

“I was miserable because I had no purpose.”

Malone summed up an issue that affects everyone, not only budding business moguls: that when we’re aimless in life, with nothing to pour ourselves into, we may easily start to wallow in misery.

She then emphasised another crucial part of pursuing goals and finding purpose:

“You need to fail as well as succeed.”

In taking up the challenge to find our purpose, it’s inevitable that they’ll be elements of risk and failures – and yet, these are crucial stepping stones to success – and should not deter us from pursuing the roles or passions that we feel compelled towards.

What an inspiration! You can listen to the programme here:  BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs/ Jo Malone

For further thoughts on finding your purpose in life (within a Christian faith-based context), check out Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life.

In 2015 I will not… fear

Photo by Mihaela Muntean (c)

Photo by Mihaela Muntean (c)

As the fervour of another New Year sets in and everyone contemplates resolutions and fresh starts, there are many for whom the start of 2015 does not conjure up anticipation and excited expectation. They won’t make any resolutions or dare to dream of lofty pursuits; they may be uncertain of what lies ahead. Many just want to get by and survive the year without too much trouble.

As I look ahead to 2015, not one particular aspiration or goal springs to mind for me. It’s as if I’m open to ideas and direction as each day passes.

I’m not against goals and dreams – I think they can be helpful. It’s just that I’m not really sure what I will pursue yet – and as my faith is the most intrinsic part of my life, that means waiting on God and his leading.

The verses found in Proverbs 16:3 and Proverbs 3:5-6 are comforting sources of guidance. Essentially, the verses infer that it’s OK to make plans & commit them to God, who’ll ultimately direct our paths and make the way ahead straight. But I don’t have to make plans which begin on January 1.

Inspiration or revelation can come at any time, and each day can be seized with enthusiasm and giving my all.

It’s good to set goals, but it’s even better to listen to God, who doesn’t work according to my timetable or limitations. He doesn’t tend to stick to the calendar or restrict himself to our human conventions or practices, so I want to be open to his leading/backtracking/ sidestepping or detours.

Flexibility might just well be what God wants me to learn this year. It was while he was en route to heal Jairus’ daughter that Jesus let himself be distracted by the woman with an embarrassing uterine problem. Will I let myself be distracted by other people or situations that God puts in my path, for the purpose of life changing impact? Or will I be so intent on following my own agenda that I miss the plans God has for my life?

Life can be a beautiful mess when we’re open to exploring the alleyways and crooked places where Christ wants to shine his light, often away from the smooth, easy path we would lay out for ourselves.

So this year I’m not going to set myself impressive targets. I’m simply going to be open to where God’s leading me and not fear for the future. There’s much to be worried about and always something that demands my attention. But, for now, that still, small voice impressed upon me these words: “I will not fear for the future.”