Boredom Bingo

One of the things I’m attempting at the moment is to work out the major stresses in our family, and then to try to implement solutions. I’m finding that often the problems are more to do with my attitudes than anything else … however I did work out that my son repeatedly asking for screen-time was a major stress on me.

I’ve always been a bit leery of screens. They seem to me to be the equivalent of fast-food for the brain. Growing up, we only had two channels and they only showed kids TV for two hours a day. So at most I’d watch an hour of TV a day, and an occasional film. I was quite happy writing, drawing, and playing with toys or friends.

Son#1 however, absolutely loves screens. This seems to be characteristic of ADHD – after all, exciting TV and video games require little effort in terms of concentration, and can provide a lot of the stimulation people with ADHD crave.

So I understand the magnetic attraction my son feels for screens. What I find really hard to cope with is his apparent inability to entertain himself without a screen.

During the school holidays and weekends he follows me around asking for more X-box, TV, or games on the kindle. He disputes the rules we had clearly established about screen time during the holidays. He is relentless in this, and as an introvert I find his constant demands for attention and screens exhausting. So we have come up with Boredom Bingo!

112 Jonathan's castle

I wrote out a long list of activities that are alternatives to screens. I was careful to involve activities that require Son#1 to think of someone else’s needs and preferences, not just his own – so one is ‘plan a day out for your little sister’, and another is ‘make a card for someone who needs cheering up’. I also wanted him to have some activities that were chores, like putting away toys.

20161001_102638The idea is that any time he feels bored, or when it is not screen time, instead of asking me for screens he can pick an activity off the boredom bingo sheet. When he completes the sheet he gets a small prize (like a bar of chocolate – nothing too expensive!) I’ve put sixteen activities on one sheet, so it should take him at least a week to complete it. He gets the immediate reward of ticking off the activity (or you could offer stickers to a younger child); and the incentive of the reward at the end of the sheet. He also gets the reward of feeling that he has achieved something.

And hopefully, I’ll get a break from the arguments over screen time!

Here’s the link to the pdf if you want to steal the idea for your own family 🙂

boredom bingo

Thoughts from the pit

I had such a strong vision of how our family was going to be. Thirteen years ago when I said, “I do”, I thought we would have a tribe of happy children, gathered peacefully around the table. With Christmas coming, my vision turns to games played around the fire, stories shared with food, children listening as we whisper the reason for the lights and presents, the joy that we have a Saviour.

I know now that this was an ideal, even in ordinary families. The peace is disrupted by sin, selfishness, illness, and tiredness. Those moments of peace and joy, when they come, are precious.

I think the past ten years have been God slowly prying my fingers loose from my vision. I cling on tightly, because this is what we have been taught to want. Peace, happiness, gently glowing fairy lights and thankful faces.

I think God has a different vision. And now that we have accepted that our oldest son actually has some pretty deep issues, I’ve been working through a process of mourning my vision, and learning to accept and live in what God, in his wisdom, has given instead.

God’s vision is one of self-sacrifice, where we learn to make space for other peoples’ difficulties and differences. It hurts. It means that maybe our family worship times have to be short, snappy, fun, rather than slow, deep and thoughtful. But you know what, that’s where my husband excels. So maybe God’s vision is also one where I learn to let go of control a bit more.

God’s vision is one of forgiveness, where we walk the hard road of saying, “You hurt me, but I’ll accept the pain of that rather than break our relationship”. We are walking with him in this, following the footsteps of Jesus.

God’s vision is one of love, where we show kindness when we are reviled, patience when faced with ingratitude, and persistent generosity when our efforts go unrecognised. We could not learn these things so well if life was always easy, if our children were always obedient and thankful.

If I have learned one thing in this life it is that the harder road is always the better one, though it may hurt. The best things of God are those won through pain, through trial. Just as the best views are found at the top of a rugged mountain path, the greatest love is found through sacrifice.

God knew this. It’s why he allowed sin into the world. It’s why he sent his Son to live here, instead of remaining in perfect peace and joy in heaven. It’s why he allowed us to crucify his deeply loved Son, so that the whole Trinity could enter our brokenness and love to the fullest measure.

God seeks to draw us up into his higher life, his life of sacrificial love, his life of forgiveness and mercy. Will I still fight him? Or will I embrace the opportunities he has given me to experience deeper love, deeper forgiveness, deeper grace?

Off the Map

I promised to explain why I’ve been so quiet for so long.

My husband has been having some issues with his thyroid – a condition called Grave’s Disease. His thyroid goes into overdrive, and it has a profound effect on his whole body. He becomes agitated, irritable, and his heart pounds and races. He can’t sleep, and this makes it hard for him to get out of bed and to be involved in family life.

It kicked off about two years ago now, and tablets brought his thyroid under control. But now it’s happened again, and the doctors want to do a more permanent treatment.

While all this was happening, my husband kept injuring his back. He would be in excruciating pain, and even less able to help out with the kids and family life.

Layered over these issues, we have come to the slow and painful conclusion that Son#1 has ADHD. We’re going through the diagnosis process, which could take a whole blog of it’s own to describe, but from what we have read we are fairly certain that this is what the problem is.

Son#1 has been particularly difficult for many years, but his aggression and persistence seem to be intensifying. Having an explanation helps at one level, but I’ve also been trying to process what on earth this will mean for our family, and for Son#1 in particular. How is he going to cope with high school (starting in September 2019)? What will his life look like when he is fourteen, eighteen, twenty? Will he settle down, or will this be something that dogs him his entire life, limiting him, and damaging relationships?

My mind runs in circles as I go over these issues. At one level it is such a relief to have an explanation (other than that we are terrible parents) for our son’s difficult behaviour, and apparent inability to learn simple rules and manage his own emotions. At another level, finding a diagnosis brought an end to my hope that he was just a difficult kid and would outgrow his behaviour. ADHD seems to be a very unpredictable animal – in some people it’s long-term effects are devastating. In others, it adds some strain to daily life but not enough to prevent someone from holding down a steady job and caring for a family.

I feel like I am just emerging from a black hole, or a vicious storm. I’ve been very depressed for quite a few months, just trying to process everything that has happened to us. And through it all, when we have reached out for support from the church we have been turned away.

I’ve shed a lot of tears. I went through a patch of being unable to pray. It felt as though God had just closed the door. I tried very hard to listen to my head and to believe the promises of the Bible, but my overwhelming sense was of being utterly alone.

If you are living in a family affected by ADHD I hope I can offer you a story to relate to so you feel less alone. I have found little online for Christians living with ADHD, particularly for the partner/parent without ADHD.

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This feels like a very muddled blog, and probably isn’t all that clear. I’m hoping to break the issues down over the next few weeks and write them out one by one, providing a clear resource. But right now I’m just relating where we are. I feel a bit like a shipwrecked traveler, washed up on a strange beach. I have no bearings. We are off the map in terms of marriage and parenting, dealing with issues no self-help guide really touches on. Perhaps I can provide some direction to those who follow, to guide you on safer paths than the ones I have trodden.

What I mean when I say, “I’m tired”

Today I took my two younger children out to a farm park. When I got back I spent an hour painting furniture. Then I cooked our dinner.

Just an ordinary day in the life of a mum, right?

Yup. Except that by dinner-time my arms and legs were trembling with tiredness, and it was all I could do to eat. By the time I’d put my daughter to bed, I was so tired even breathing felt like an effort.

Because although, in one sense, I am an ordinary mum, in another, profound sense I am not. I am a mum with a chronic health condition.

My Crohn’s disease is in remission. I am so thankful for that. But while that means I am very happily living without daily diarrhoea and sickness, it doesn’t mean I get to live without some of the other symptoms … tiredness and bowel pain being two of them.

It’s the tiredness I want to focus on, because it is the one symptom that is so hard to explain. When people say, “I’m tired,” it can mean so many different things. Having a newborn baby introduces a whole new level of meaning to the phrase! Having two toddlers at home is yet another dimension! I’ve experienced the desperation and horror of both 🙂

But living with a chronic condition … this is a tiredness so profound that it can feel hard to breathe.

For me, right now, the worst thing about it is the lack of understanding from other people. My husband is wonderful, believes me when I say that I am too tired to pick up the toys on the living room floor, too tired to read, too tired to clean.

Not everyone is so kind.

I know what ordinary tiredness feels like, and how, most of the time, it can be pushed through. Or how, if you just sit down for ten minutes, it passes. But this is not like that. It feels as though the bones in my arms and legs have turned to lead. Moving them is hard work. It feels as though my rib-cage is weighted, as though when I breathe in I am having to lift bricks resting on my chest.

It gets me down. Very down. Because I don’t like my house being a mess. I don’t like not cleaning the kitchen sink for two weeks because by the time I’ve done the basic essentials like emptying the dishwasher and cooking dinner, I’m out of energy. I don’t like telling my kids I’m too tired to play with them. I don’t like choosing a freezer-to-oven meal yet again because the healthy, home-cooked option is too hard. I don’t like saying to friends that going out in the evening is too much at the moment.

It makes me sad and angry that just taking my kids out for a couple of hours leaves me wiped out. I hate what this condition has stolen from me.

I get upset that my weight has crept up and up over the past two years because when I’m down I eat, and I have no spare energy for proper exercise. I joined a weight-loss programme last year, but decided that the stress and extra work of preparing meals from scratch was making me tired and irritable, and though I loved the impact on my body, I decided that, right now, being there for my kids is more important than how I feel about my body (and fitting in with a cultural stereotype of what is beautiful).

This is not meant to be a complaint. I’m writing this so that, if you too are living with a chronic condition, you have something to show those who do not understand you. Sometimes it helps to read something by a third party.

So if a loved one or friend of yours has just shared this with you, read more into their ‘I’m tired’ than how you feel after a long day’s work. Instead, remember the last time you were properly ill, and the first few days of recovery (when you’re well enough to be out of bed, but doing ordinary things leaves you wanting to crawl back into bed). That’s the level I (and your loved one) live at most days. We can manage ordinary things, so it looks like we’re ok. I can hoover my house, clean my bathroom … but then I have to stop and rest, or I’d have nothing left for my kids when they come home.

I’m constantly having to choose, to make sacrifices, to conserve my small allowance of energy, making it stretch. I make choices most people don’t have to weigh up: Do I sort out the pile of laundry or take my toddler to the park today? Do I go to the supermarket or arrange to meet another mum and toddler? I want to do both, but I know it will be too much.

Sometimes I choose something knowing I will suffer for it (like today), because I’m sick of this tiredness ruling my life. But I can only do that so often.

And what makes it 100 times worse is when people don’t understand, don’t even try to understand. It leaves me drained and upset when people judge me as a failure, assume I’m lazy, weak, ill-disciplined … and I have no opportunity to correct them. When people ask how you are, you can hardly launch into a long explanation of how you feel, so “I’m quite tired at the moment”, has to suffice. It barely scratches the surface.p1000669

But it humbles me, which is a good thing, and I am learning to rest in the fact that God knows I am doing everything in my power to please him. I am learning to be happy that he understands, he knows. But every now and then, someone else’s complete lack of understand really, really hurts.

So if you know someone with a chronic condition, be kind. Remember times you have felt like even ordinary life was too much, and how frustrating it was for you, just for two or three days. Let the person have a little moan every now and then, maybe even cry on your shoulder. Leave out the judgement on their house, appearance and life choices. Perhaps they hate having crumbs on the floor as much as you do, but don’t have the choice of whether to leave them another day or not. Have a bit of compassion for them. Because now you know what they mean when they say, “I’m tired”.

Doubt and Silence

I am in an ugly season, of doubt and silence.

I am weary to my core, and have nothing left to give but the relentless days keep coming. The sun keeps rising. Children need dressing and feeding, and leave me no space to turn inwards, or even upwards.

My husband has a back injury that has recurred five times in the past two years. Each time he suffers terrible pain for weeks. He can’t sleep, and he recedes (understandably) into a cave out of my reach. We drift through the days, which become fuller for me, as the help I depend on from him has to stop.

My body is weary. My stomach is playing up, causing nights of pain and nausea, but I must get up in the morning to care for the toddler and get the older two to school, because my husband can’t do those things right now. I ache for breathing space; I feel my lungs are compressed by the days and hours and the pressure of carrying children and housework and husband and church.

My prayers are desperate, like the chirping of a helpless chick. Wordless, most of the time, a bewildered wail. Help. Help.

It feels as though the help does not come. I feel alone.

I have been through times of grief, times of struggle before. I have watched others struggle through bereavement, illness, and just hard days. We can be so tempted to come to sufferers with words, layering up clichés of supposed hope, which often injure and deepen the sorrow.

God works all things for good. This may be true, but in great grief we just can’t see it.

God’s power is made perfect in weakness. Yes, but I’m not experiencing God’s power right now.

Sometimes we just want someone to sit with us, to grieve with us. To sit in silence.

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;

it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.

Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. 

Lamentations 3:25-28

Perhaps, when God’s silence is most profound, this is what he is doing. For we know he knows our grief. We know he tasted sorrow and loneliness and pain to the dregs. We saw him weep in Gethsemane. Alone.

Perhaps his silence is that of companionship, where the pain is beyond words. Perhaps the tears are rolling down his cheeks in sympathy. Perhaps he is sitting right there all along, in silence.

I came across that viral picture of Drake, today, the little boy battling cancer in the USA.

My heart skipped a beat.

I wanted to leave the image, return to my cosy comfort-zone. I made myself look back. I made myself honour his bravery and his suffering by reading his story.

Such images, such stories, break through comfortable Christianity. They force me to confront the reality of the world. Such stories rescue us from easy answers to the big questions, the questions that have stumped philosophers through the ages. There can be no neat answer to such an appalling tragedy.

If I’m honest, such an image makes my faith skip a beat.

My belief system is thrown into context. What does a poor carpenter from a forgotten corner of the world have to do with Drake? With the suffering in Yemen? With anyone broken and sad and in pain and having lost everything?

It seems unbelievable suddenly. Does God really care? Is there even a God, if such things are allowed to be?

I think through the alternatives: there is no God. Then there is no question. Suffering is not a problem, it just is. Cancer has no higher meaning. It is just part of this cycle of living and dying that will continue ad infinitum. If you are lucky enough to have avoided bad genes or contagion then enjoy yourself and spare a thought for those whose lives are soaked in suffering. This is all they have.

Other religions … with other gods sometimes suffering is repayment. I must have done something terrible to deserve this. I must redeem myself by doing better. What a terrible burden to bear.

With God … I am not sure God provides an answer to suffering. I suspect because no answer would satisfy. Who is going to listen and then go, “Oh sure, ok; I understand. That’s why my little boy can’t eat and is having to take poison daily. I see now, it’s ok.”

Everything in us resists suffering. We know, deep inside, that this is not meant to be.

I prayed for Drake. I prayed for his mother. I didn’t know what to pray – I have never had to watch my sons suffer so much. It’s unimaginable. I suddenly realised that God knows. He watched his son, his only son, be beaten and bruised. He watched him cry out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

 

So as I prayed for Drake’s mother I realised, God can comfort her. He knows. He knows what she is going through, to watch helpless while her son suffers. And Jesus knows what Drake is going through. He knows what it feels to be in pain, to want it to stop, to think you cannot go on, but to keep on breathing anyway.

His arms are open wide, so that if Drake’s medication fails he can step into those welcoming arms and be free from pain and suffering. His arms are wide open, so that if Drake’s medication works, that little boy can run to him for comfort and help on the days when it’s unbearable, and know that one day he can be strong and live for the one who did die.

This is something offered by no other religion, a God, transcendent and holy, yet who knows pain. Who has walked my road, and walks it with me. Who has drunk the cup of suffering to its dregs.

This doesn’t answer the philosophical question, I know that. But it offers something I find nowhere else. Suffering alone is probably the worst thing imaginable. Jesus suffered alone, so that he could stand by me when I suffer.

A Study in Fear

Well, it’s hardly the most propitious start to the year but Son#2 spent most of yesterday with his head in the sick bucket, and I have spent today bleaching everything in sight, trying to prevent the rest of us from going down with what I can only assume is my great nemesis, the Norovirus.

I want to testify to the great and tender mercy of God. He remembers that we are dust, and has sent many kindnesses our way during this trial.

But he has been challenging me. Stretching me.

Today 60 years have passed since Jim Elliot and his companions were killed by the Huaorani they were trying to reach with the gospel. Such a willingness to surrender everything to Jesus by a young man with a wife and small daughter makes me ashamed of my petty fear of a day of discomfort.

I know the theory. I know that it is only one day, and that if I catch the norovirus it is only for good, even if I can’t see the good.

But all my feelings are in rebellion and I have spent the day like Jacob, wrestling with the God I think I know. He is good. He is merciful. But he is also wiser and greater than me, and can see further, to the ends of eternity and back. This is comfort.

But it is also terrifying. It puts someone other than me in control, and even believing that he is good and loving … I am fighting with myself, fighting to reach that place of surrender where I can let go, empty my hands and take whatever God sends with thankfulness and trust.

This fear goes deep. Its roots run right into my soul, where I cling tightly to the sense that I have some power, some control over my circumstances. But the only thing that God wishes me to control is myself.

It was very helpful to me to realise that Jesus’ command is not, ‘Do not feel afraid’, but ‘Do not be afraid’. He experienced the depths of fear in Gethsemane. He knows that gripping terror which turns the bones to water and makes every heartbeat last forever. He knows the urge to run, the hissing instinct of self-preservation. He felt fear at its strongest.

But he did not run. He did not allow fear to control him; rather he mastered it and walked calmly away with the soldiers to be tortured and killed.

I am fighting with my demons today. I feel profoundly afraid, but, with God’s help I will not be afraid. I will comfort my sick son when I want to run. I will wrestle until the truth that God loves me, and will send only good, comforts my soul. I will try to follow my Lord, and master my fear.

Fear cages me. Sometimes I like my cage. It makes me feel safe. I willingly open the door and step inside, thinking that the cage will keep me from harm. But in fact it traps me.

Faith melts the bars of iron and throws my horizons wide. Because anything is possible with this God. Moving mountains. Walking on water. Even coping with Norovirus.