Thursday, 19 February 2015


On Tuesday evening, I stood over a smokey frying pan in my kitchen, windows and doors wide open to give the smoke alarm a break. My three children and lovely husband occasionally appeared, plate in hands, ready to receive their next pancake. Within half an hour, I was sat at the dining room table, eating my pancakes.On the table in front of me, lay the chaos of Shrove Tuesday Evening: a spoon stood upright in the tin of Lyle's Golden Syrup, an orange bottle of Reece's Peanut Butter Sauce lay on its side, open and oozing out onto the pine. Little plastic Jiff Lemon lemon-shaped bottles sat on the table-top, surrounded by random sprinkles and little piles of caster sugar, the lid of the Kilner jar of caster sugar flopped open, small pieces of pancake inside and a lemon-and-sugar coated spoon sat next to it. As I devoured my last pancake and chatted with my husband, a thought drifted in and out of my mind, "Only a few more hours of Facebook. Quick! Use the opportunity while you can! Don't miss anything!"

I'm pretty rubbish at giving anything up. There is one exception to that - exercise. I can easily give up exercise, but that's probably because I never took it up in the first place.Yep, utterly rubbish at giving stuff up...particularly food....and anything I like doing...which is basically everything I do as I rather like my life! Lent is something that my really well-behaved Anglican friends always did as we were growing up. Their efforts mainly involved things like not biting their nails, not eating chocolate and giving up TV. I didn't do Lent. In fact, I'm not sure that I have ever remained "in the Lent Zone" ever. Not even as a grown up.

But this year, I will. For a few months I have realised that I have an addiction which is interfering with my life. It takes me away from my family, my husband and God. After recently reading one of Russell Brand's books, I have considered addiction a little more. Now I'm pretty sure that my definition of addiction is somehow incorrect, but it is the one that makes sense to me. Addiction is a repeated behaviour. This repeated behaviour detrimentally affects the addicted person and their family and friends. This repeated behaviour becomes the first thought of the day, and the domitating thought until the end of the day. This repeated behaviour pushes everything else aside. It ignores precious people and their needs, and becomes selfish and relentless in its need to be satisfied.

I cannot count the number of times I have delayed conversation with my children by using the phrase "In a minute" or "I'm just in the middle of something" whilst checking the Facebook app on my mobile phone. I do not know how many times I have absent-mindedly chatted on the phone whilst staring at the laptop (on my lap), checking out somebody's holiday snaps. When I wake up in the morning, I feel a need to check Facebook. I need to see what everyone is doing, thinking, and planning that day. I need to know what is happening outside of my world. I need to connect with others, not by talking to them or even sending them a message, but just simply by knowing what they are saying.

There are very few occasions when I read anything that might be considered vital. I read complaints about children or husbands. I read reports of trips to the doctor about in-grown toenails or bad backs. I read funny anecdotes about children getting their words mixed up. I read moans about grumpy neighbours. I see photos of parties that I wasn't invited to, and that I'm grateful to have missed. I see photos of a "first lost tooth". I receive (always unwanted) invitations to play Candy Crush or whatever the current trendy (addictive) game is. I read articles about the idiocy of various politicians or celebrities. I see death announcements for much-loved actors. I look at silly photos of animals stuck in vases.

Facebook has informed me of some big stuff. Facebook told me that my friend's marriage was over. Facebook told me that the beautiful daughter of our precious friends had leukaemia. Facebook told me that one of my "youth girlies" had met the love of her life and was getting married. Facebook showed me that I wasn't alone in feeling devastating grief at the death of a beautiful young girl who I watched grow from a slightly awkward teen into a stunning, confident young woman. Facebook told me that my friend's husband had suddenly died whilst on holiday. All of these announcements were a Call To Action. They caused me to phone, pray, visit. They woke me up from my "Everything Is Awesome" slumber and shot me, like a human canonball into the Real World of other people's suffering, struggles,joys and celebrations. They made me move.

Facebook has been a great place for me to document my family. Holidays, walks in the woods, successful homeschool mornings, days at the beach, baking victories, awarded certificates, new pets, those rarely-completed DIY jobs. They've all hit Facebook and been kindly received or mercifully ignored!

I don't have a moral objection to Facebook. I don't consider myself "above" Facebook. I just need to be honest with myself. My name is Sally, and I am addicted to Facebook. I am helpless to its call. I need some time out. I need God's help. Even when I decided to blog this morning, my fingers automatically typed "www.faceboo..." I suddenly realised what I was doing and stopped myself. Even my fingers, my body, my muscles are in a habit that needs to be broken.

I guess I could give it up completely. But, I know that Facebook provides a simple solution to broad announcements of big events in the lives of people who mean a lot to me. It is a helpful way for me to remain in-the-loop. Ultimately, I love my friends and I love to be available to show love to them, to support them and to stand with them. I don't want to miss those Calls To Action. But I definitely need to reset my priorities. I need to listen and rest. I need to wonder and wander. I need to put my flippin' phone down! It's time to give it up. Just for a while.

Lent represents a time to go without and trust in God's power to sustain me. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, going without. In that place He was introduced to Temptation. He resisted with God's power of sustenance. I'm not going with out food or water, just Facebook. I'm sure I'll be fine.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Confessions of a Homeschool Mumma

I am not a fan of Facebook. Don't get me wrong, I am completely addicted and look at it about seventy times before I've even had my breakfast, but I do not like Facebook at all. My biggest issue with Facebook is my own constant desire to announce exciting events and decisions to the world. I'm not talking about "Look at the cake I made!" or "My child is a genius!" announcements. What I'm talking about are the BIG decisions. Those decisions that are really important, life changing...and so big that the whole world knowing might not be helpful.

In June of last year, we made a BIG decision. We decided to remove our eldest child from school. After years of struggling, our son was only attending school part-time (with agreement with staff.) He and I were studying and working every morning, before the beginning of his school day which was at 11o'clock. We were rather enjoying ourselves. It was easy, peaceful and fun. And I was shocked.

After a meeting with various members of staff, and Local Authority representatives, discussing the next step for our son's education, we concluded that our only option was Homeschooling. We agreed  that staff would ensure that he had a leaving party with his closest friends towards the end of the following day, which would end his time at school.

Let me share with you some truths about homeschooling my son...

Number One - I Never Thought I Would Do This. 
 Let me be clear, for years, I have repeated the following statement, "I'm sure that I should homeschool this boy, but we'd kill each other!" My son and I have a very typical parent/teenager relationship! We argue and greatly differ in our agendas. I am a strict and protective mumma, and he is a determined and increasingly independent creative whirlwind. We are quite a team when our efforts combine, and a veritable storm when in conflict. Our time apart from each other had always been respite for me and refreshing for us both. The thought of constantly being together or even an increased amount of time together was, quite frankly, frightening.

Number Two - We Tried School. We REALLY did.
But he has always found school difficult. He even struggled at nursery. As well as some particular difficulties, he is a true individual. He thinks and feels deeply. His passion for justice and empathy for those who suffer has always set him apart from his peers. His struggles with conforming and his frustration and difficulties in grasping "banter" and sarcasm have made interacting with people his own age extremely challenging. To watch my child head off to school every day filled me with anxiety. As I left him at nursery, and then primary school, every day for 8 years, I always felt worried, knowing that no day would run smoothly. I dreaded the end-of-the-day report facial expression from the class teacher. .Secondary school was no different. I dreaded the phone call, asking me to collect my son, or informing me of his various detentions and exclusions for losing his temper with students and staff alike. School was a stressful and scary place for him. It was a place that angered him, confused him and eventually (according to the theories of his psychiatrist) led him to severe depression. Despite kind, skilled teachers and advisers giving him time, love and their focus, he was still sinking in the school environment.

Number Three - Homeschooling Is Not School at Home.
Firstly, we often are not actually at home. We have found our favourite cafes are often a great place to study. We grab a coffee or a hot chocolate, sit ourselves down in a cosy corner, get books or the laptop out and off we go! We often visit the library, grab some interesting books to read and use the computers in the library to complete research or online learning. There are many group-learning classes that my son could also attend, should he choose. As yet, he hasn't.

Secondly, "schooling" is very different from education and learning. My son has always struggled to grasp information and concepts if they are taught, sitting at a desk in a classroom setting. He has always enjoyed kinesthetic learning (learning through doing/moving.) Practical subjects like Art, Food Tech, Resistant Materials, Drama, PE have been more enjoyable, engaging and successful for him. Likewise, those great teachers that he has had over the years that have identified a need for active learning have had a great impact on him and his love of learning. Unfortunately, we are not all the same - even teachers differ in their style of working!

We have realised that we love Learning by Doing. We cook. We make. We visit places. We meet people. We read books, the newspaper and watch documentaries. We watch a film and discuss the themes, the message, the meaning. We walk and take photos. We ask each other questions. And, we Google stuff. A lot.

Number Four - We Have New Friends
So many times before homeschooling my son, like many, I despaired over the apparent "lack of socialising" opportunities for homeschooled children. Since we have begun to homeschool our son, I cannot count the number of times that we have been asked, "What about friends? Does he see anyone?" I'm afraid, he has no friends. He never sees anyone apart from his family and he is now unable to have a conversation with anyone. In fact, he has forgotten all of his words and never leaves his room...Umm...not really.

As I type, my son is serving at our local Foodbank. He serves there every Wednesday morning. After the Foodbank, he goes along to a local church's Midweek Meeting, where he shares lunch with his grandfather and approximately 40 other people and then joins in the worship and listens to the talk. He then discusses the talk with the other attendees. These people are a diverse bunch: retirees, unemployed adults, one 17 year-old homeschooled young man, adults with learning difficulties, at-home mums. He confidently converses with all of these people and has even spoken at one of the meetings, sharing his personal thoughts on faith. In December, he had his own Christmas Do - The Foodbank Team Christmas Meal. He sat with 12 retired friends, laughed and chatted and had a fantastic time. These people love him and are teaching him how adults behave. He is learning how to speak kindly and work together in a healthy environment.

Every second Friday, he attends a Home Schoolers Youth Group with about 40 other 11-18 year olds. They discuss, they play games and sports, they chat, they use the recording studio and they have special trips to the bowling alley and Laserquest.

Every Saturday, he rehearses with a local youth theatre, and every Friday night he attends our church youth group.

My son has more close friends now than ever before. He has more invitations to hang out, go places and have fun than ever before. He now can see that he is worthy of being liked and that his individuality is a strength and is admired by many. His new friends are equally as individual and, therefore, open-minded and accepting. So, he now actually likes himself.

We have met so many new people and made friends of many of them. We have been encouraged and inspired by their experiences, and by the excellent attitude and behaviour of their children. It is so good to meet children and young people who are fascinated by the world around them, thoughtful and observant of the lives of others, and truly excited about their future. Although I have met schooled children with these qualities, I have never before seen such a concentration of them as I have in the homeschooled community. It is inspiring and so very exciting.

Number Five - The Truth Is Out There
Did you know the following:
1.It is YOUR RIGHT as a parent to remove your child from school permanently.
2.Home Education is a form of private education and is entirely valid as a means of educating your child.
3.Private/independent schools are at liberty to employ untrained/unqualified teachers. It therefore makes sense that to be a home educator you do not need to be trained or qualified.
4.There is no funding available for Home Education.
5. It is not a legal requirement to follow the National Curriculum, nor to study for GCSE or A'Level exams.
6. Universities and colleges are mindful of students who have received "alternative education" and value experience and portfolios very highly.
7. There is a vast Homeschool community all over the world, connecting families with excellent resources and other families.
8. The time taken for assemblies, register, behaviour managment and teaching at differentiated levels, verses one-on-one teaching means that far less "learning time" is necessary in Home Education than in a school setting.

Number Six - My Heart and My Mind Is Changing
I am learning that:
Different does not always mean wrong.
Good does not always mean right.
Good structures have some flexibility.
Qualified does not mean employable or employed.
Childhood is for wandering and wondering.
Rushing means we miss things.
Questions are the beginning of discovery.
I REALLY like hanging out with my children.
God has a plan. He is our provider and not my husband's employer or the government. I will put my trust in Him.
Life is to be lived; not spent, endured, missed or wasted.

I'm not going to criticise anyone who chooses school for their child. I still have two children in the state school system and they are happy, progressing and doing fine. But, I feel very differently to how I felt (only months ago) about Homeschooling. For many of us, it is more than a "valid" option. It is a new, exciting and wonder-ful adventure, than I am absolutely loving.

This post is entitled "Confessions of a Homeschool Mumma". So, in conclusion, let me make my confessions...
I still get cross with my kids.
I still enjoy time on my own.
I am longing to homeschool all of my children (but will allow them to make their own decision.)
Although I am not stressed, I am definitely ready for bed by the end of the day, and I'm sleeping VERY well! It's tiring learning all day long!!
(And most importantly...)
I now have secret stashes of chocolate for emergencies.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

God's song

In May, Dave and I travelled to Boston, Massachusetts, USA for a long weekend. For a few years now, we have heard God's call to us and have felt His nudges towards Boston. We rarely have spare cash, so we had asked God for the £1400 that we needed to pay for flights and expenses, and as is His way, we received an anonymous banker's draft for the exact amount, and so, we made our way over.

We loved Boston. We met with some quality church planters, chatted to local Bostonian shop keepers, wandered the streets, did the Freedom Trail, sat and prayed in Harvard Yard, ate Lobster Mac and Cheese, bought as many Boston Hoodies as we could, visited Fenway Park and walked down Yawkey Way, had a ride on the ferry, fantasised about living in the North End or the South End, indulged in beautiful cake and coffee at Thinking Cup and became hard core Red Sox and Celtics fans. Ultimately, the big thing that happened was that we fell in love. We fell in love with Boston. We are now pining for the far away city, that feels like our home. We can't wait for the time when we will visit again, and ultimately for the day when Boston becomes our actual home, our city, our very own. We can't wait to take our three children with us, to visit the city that we always talk about, and often dream about.

On the Sunday morning, we were dropped off in Back Bay. We wandered through to the South End, along the blossom tree-lined streets, listening to the birds singing, seeing dads and kids playing at the park, the beautiful tall town houses waking up all around us. As we walked towards Reality Church Boston, we agreed that it all felt very significant. We had been following the progress of Reality Boston's planting from the first announcement on Sunday 15th August 2011. It was the day before my birthday and Dave just mentioned that Reality Church, first birthed in California, was planting into Boston. We immediately began researching Boston, looking at property, search Google images for iconic Bostonian sights and felt a stirring. So began our Boston adventure. Everywhere we went, we saw Boston hoodies, caps and bags. Every conversation we had Boston, mission work and the USA seemed to come up. Our daughter had a dream that we were living in a blue and white house in Boston, and prophesies about us moving, taking risks and being obedient to God came flooding in.

When the Boston bombing took place at the Boston marathon on the 15th April in 2013, our hearts broke. We wanted to be there, to pray, to tidy up, to love people. We wanted to be part of the Boston Strong - those citizens of Boston who stood together. We wanted to be a part of Reality Church Boston and all that they would be doing in the aftermath.

So, as we walked along West Newton Street on that Sunday, expectant, full of wonder as to how it would feel, and whether it would be a special and significant time, I could feel the importance of what we were doing and what might happen.

Tiny things make a big difference, don't they? It's those tiny, apparently insignificant things that make our tummies turn, and our hearts sing. For me, it began with a big jug of Half-and-Half. I had searched for Half-and-Half all weekend. I wanted to try some in my coffee. I hadn't seen any...until we walked through the doors where Reality Boston meet. We were directed to a coffee point, with a big jug of Half-and-Half sat there - just for me. My heart sang.

The service was full. Full of our Father God. Full of Jesus. Full of the Holy Spirit. We worshipped together, led by a true worshipper, with a beautiful, soul-deep voice, accompanied by strings. It was Mother's Day in the US that day. All mothers were invited to stand, where we were prayed for and honoured. I felt empowered and ready to return to my precious babies, equipped by those prayers. We were read the word of God, and replied together with a "Thanks be to God". The sermon was like a full roast dinner, with all the trimmings, followed by rhubarb crumble and custard for pudding - satisfying, deep, juicy and delicious. After the sermon, we were called to worship our God again, take communion, kneel or lay down, or receive prayer from the ministry team. It was wonderful. It felt like home. Reality Boston will be our home church one day, hopefully soon.

I took something home with me that day. We took a lot of things home from Boston that weekend, in fact. When we left Boston, our suitcases were definitely much heavier than they had been on the way there. We brought home hoodies and t-shirts for our kids, aprons and mugs for my parents, sweeties (or should I say candies?!) and chocolate. It goes without saying that I had to bring home Twinkies for my little bro, as well as coffee creamer, and a new Thinking Cup cup (!) for me. Every now and then Dave puts on his Boston Bruins top and we smile.

These things were all lovely things to bring home, but, the coffee creamer has now run out. I only have three Hershey's Kisses left and the Twinkies were demolished within a few days of our return. But one thing has remained with me.

When Al Abdullah spoke on Sunday morning, he urged us to turn up the volume of God's Song. He challenged us to listen to God's Song, God's voice, above all things. He told us of the times when we allow other songs to be louder than God's Song. Maybe we listen to the "I'm Still Single" Song, or even the "My Job Sucks" Song. Perhaps all we can hear is the "I Am So Worried About How My Kids Will Turn Out" Song or even the "When Will I Get All The Appreciation I Deserve?" Song. All the other songs are playing so loudly and God's song has been turned down so much, that we can't hear God's Song or his voice at all. We can't hear His voice, His truth at all. Sometimes, we hear a small murmur of truth - He loves us, He is all-powerful, He is our Healer, He will never Leave us, He has a perfect plan, He is good, He has the victory - and we turn it down more, in favour of listening to the other songs.

Since we returned from our weekend in Boston, our lives have drastically changed. Life does that. We're rarely ready for change, but God is. I have struggled at times, to keep God's Song the loudest. But I am amazed by the power of God, by His love, by His equipping of our family and by His goodness. It has been a challenging time, but God's beautiful, powerful, peace-making Song is seeing me through. As I parent my kids, dealing with my own imperfections as well as theirs, I can hear God's Song reminding me that He will complete the transforming work that He is doing in us. As Dave and I try to ride the storm of the financial state of our world, God's Song whispers promises of His provision for us. As I move forward in our women's ministry at church, I dance to the beat of God's amazing Song, which transforms, releases and empowers His daughters as we gather together to worship Him and share our stories of all He has done in us. And as we wait on God for the next step in our journey towards Boston, His Song gives me peace that He will direct our paths and make a way, and that we need not have any anxieties, because His Kingdom is coming .and we will be a part of it.


Friday, 6 September 2013


This week, Dave and I were chatting with our Pastor, who encouraged me to write this post.

In November 2008, my daughter celebrated her 5th birthday. My eldest son was 8, and my youngest son, 2. I was living life as most mums do; rushing from school to nursery, trying to get washing done, doing food shopping, cooking, trying not to put on weight, trying to keep my spending under control, managing friendships (my kids' and my own) and also doing the things that Christian mums do; serving with Mums and Toddlers, ministry at church, standing alongside others in crisis or in celebration. I had definitely said "yes" more than "no" and so I had given others the impression that whatever they threw at me, I could handle.

I've always enjoyed hosting my children's birthday parties, and this year was no exception. I'd made the invitations, baked the cake, put together the party bags, planned (and organised) the party games and cooked and served the party tea. Whilst extra guests (family, parents of kids at the party and friends) sat around and enjoyed their drinks and snacks, I ran around like a crazed lunatic, serving everyone and making everything happen. This was a Saturday. By Monday, I was completely exhausted. I dropped the kids at school and nursery, and drove myself and Seth to my mum's house.

I remember sitting on her stairs and crying. I was constantly tired and needing daytimes sleeps. I was very easily angered and often shouted at the kids. I would frequently find myself in floods of tears, sat on the kitchen floor, unable to complete the many different tasks that I'd started that day. I felt constantly guilty, that my poor hard-working husband was having to arrive home to a messy, chaotic house and a stressed and unhappy wife. Despite feeling unable to get housework done, I was still agreeing to attend various meetings, help friends with their kids and housework, and get involved in more and more events at church.

My mum told me to go to my GP. I called, was miraculously given an appointment straight away, and made my way in my car to the doctor. As I walked into his office, I felt heavy and weighed down. My movement felt slow and yet everything around me felt fast, loud and too bright. I started to tell him how I was angry and losing my temper with my children. I told him how I felt a total lack of motivation to do anything fun. I told him how lonely I felt, and how I felt that I had no friends left.

He told me that I had depression. He told me that I needed medication. He gave me a questionnaire to fill in. He prayed with me - my lovely GP (now retired), who is a Christian, knew I was also.

I filled in the questionnaire. I was shocked by one question - "Have you ever thought about ending your life?" Shocking! What a question! "Of course not!" was my initial response. And then I remembered...or maybe I just admitted to myself...The times when my children would chatter away in the back of the car. I would zone out of their words and hear only a humming noise. I would suddenly find myself thinking, "I could just not turn the steering wheel at the next corner. I could keep driving forwards. I could go into that tree." As the corner came, I would always turn the steering wheel, the thought would pass and I would realise my driving had slowed to a crawl. So...yes, I had thought about ending my life. Yes.

As I left the doctor, prescription in hand, I took out my mobile phone and called Dave. First of all I said "sorry". I felt so guilty. This man had married a funny, lively, easy-going girl, full of energy and promise. Now, she had turned into a miserable, tired, lazy woman, who had let herself go...or at least that's how I felt. He was kind, gentle and encouraging in his response...and this never changed.

That evening, Dave and I talked about the diagnosis. He told me to take all the rest I needed. He told me to completely forget about housework, church responsibilities and food shopping. I agreed that I could cope with the school run, and that I would ask for help when I felt unable. Again, I agreed to cook, but ask for help when needed. I also agreed to sleep as much as I needed to. Dave prayed with me, asking God to heal me. I suddenly had a very clear thought - Healing would not come straight away. Healing would come, but not straight away. God had heard my prayer and would bring healing, but if He gave it immediately, I would not learn anything, and there would be no testimony. I felt God clearly tell me that this depression was for a reason and that my experience and my ultimate healing would be a wonderful story, a testimony to be shared.

And so, my journey with Depression had officially began. My medical notes had documented a "Depressive Episode" and I was prescribed Fluoxetine tablets, two to be taken daily. My doctor recommended regular exercise, rest and an online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy programme called MoodGym. I told people that I had depression. I had two kinds of responses:

Response #1 - "You? Not you, Sal! You're such a happy person! You're so confident! You? Oh dear!"
Response #2 - "Me too! What tablets are you taking?"

With out exception, all who offered me Response #2, were people like me - involved in lots of stuff, lively, fun, sociable and, usually, creative in some way. I was shocked to learn how many people had experienced or were experiencing depression. I was shocked at how many people were taking medication. I was especially shocked as I would never had guessed that those people were depressed.

I learnt that Depression was a physical illness. I learnt that it was caused by physical things and had extremely physical symptoms. I didn't expect that at all. I realised that was had been called depression was actually my body saying, "No more! I can't keep going! I am officially on strike!" My body had had enough.

I remember one day soon after my first visit to the GP, I had a very odd experience. It was about 4pm and a school day. I had collected the kids from school and come home. I was freezing cold and I couldn't warm up. I slowly climbed the stairs (everything was done slowly) and run the bath. With the kids playing around me, I climbed into the bath and sat in the warm water. I didn't move. I didn't lay down or stretch my legs out. I held my knees up to my chin and sat there in silence. After a while (I'm not sure how long as my time perception was way off) I hoisted myself up and climbed over the side of the bath. I wrapped myself in a towel and, exhausted from the endeavour, I sat down on the closed toilet seat. As I sat there, I suddenly realised that I couldn't remember how to stand up. It was like my body couldn't hear my brain thinking, "Time to stand up now." I don't know how I sat there, but eventually, I stood up and walked into my bedroom.

I recall a concerned email from a friend who had received an email from me that didn't make any sense. My brain could not send the right message to my hands. As I typed, I had missed letters and words, resulting in an incomprehensible message. My handwriting also suffered. Suddenly it was messy, and my grip on pens and pencils was much looser. I also found reading impossible. A few people had given me books to read about depression, but I couldn't take in the information. I would read the same sentence again and again, but would absorb no information at all.

Nothing was enjoyable. When the snow fell that Winter, I didn't catch flakes on my tongue with the kids. Dave took them out to go sledging and I stayed home and made hot chocolate. Usually, I'd be bursting with excitement, but now? Nothing.

Some friends seemed unable to understand or deal with the depressed version of me. I had felt paranoid and lonely for a while. Now I understood why. Some friends backed off, but they were definitely the minority. Most of my friends were kind, helpful and moved towards me, ready to support. But I still felt very lonely. I felt like I was a burden to other people and so I pulled the shutters down and hid. I didn't have many Duvet Days, but I stayed at home or sat at my mum's house. She noticed that I was very quiet. I felt like I had run out of words...not my usual state at all! It was easier to hide from people than to feel disliked and "tolerated".

As much as I loved my church and had been so very blessed by so many people there, for reasons completely unrelated to my health, we decided to move to a new church. When we arrived at our new church, The Beacon Church, in Camberley, I felt it important to be really honest about my depression. During our membership interview with our pastor, Mark and his wife , Bev, I laid my cards on the table, "I need to be honest with you. You should know that I have depression."
"You should know that it's not an issue for us, " replied Mark, "I read two kind of books - books about leadership and books about depression. Rest when you need to, serve when you can. Your illness will not hold you back and we are not nervous about it." Minutes later, Bev asked me if I would like to preach at the next Ladies' Day. To be understood and released to make a contribution in the same conversation was amazing. From that point, it was Onwards and Upwards.

I met with a wonderful counsellor, Julie Sussex who leads our Pastoral Team at the Beacon. We talked about my family, my marriage, my illness and my coping mechanisms. Julie listened and helped me to order my thinking. She spoke to me about the guilt I was feeling. She spoke to me about my reticence to ask for help. She encouraged me to reach out and told me that I wasn't an "extra-Grace" person (someone who required a lot of patience) or a burden. I started to believe that what she was saying was true. It was safe or me to be honest and to ask for help. It was good to lean on a trusted friend and it was essential for me to say "no" to people and to say it without guilt. I wasn't letting anyone down, I was, in fact, helping myself, helping my family and helping those who asked too much of me. I began to believe, and I began to say "no".

Over the following five years, I continued to take my medication, avoid exercise like the plague, (well, I was still essential me...) and experience bouts of depression. I began to listen to my body and identify when I was feeling "poorly" and I need of some time out. During this time, Dave and I had been asked to lead the Youth team in our church, and so I did miss a few evenings. I also would remain at home in bed on some Sunday mornings. Although I knew that church did me good, I knew that on those mornings, I needed to sleep in the quiet of an empty house, and that God's grace towards me meant that I didn't HAVE to do anything other than rest in Him. After pregnancy, I'd not been a big drinker at all, but even the occasional gin and tonic would affect my mood significantly for days afterwards, and so I decided to avoid alcohol altogether. I saw Julie every now and then, and although my natural tendancy was to hide away when depression hit, I tried hard to reach out, sometimes sending texts to trusted friends, asking for prayer. I spoke to my children about my illness, explain why I was so often tired and emotional. They seemed to understand, and although they certainly didn't walk on egg shells or behave perfectly, they were sensitive, cuddly and most importantly for me, they didn't seem to worry about why Mummy was so often a messy heap on the floor.

In the years that followed a few things stand out as significant moments. Eighteen months after my initial diagnosis, Dave and I attended a youth leaders' training weekend. In one meeting, during the worship, I felt a strong sense of peace. I felt like God was close by. Those who were sensing His presence were invited forward. I went forward and stood at the front of everyone, quietly closed my eyes and opened my hands out. Suddenly something started building in me. I started to laugh. At first, it was a smile, then a little giggle, and eventually, a loud, raucous belly laugh. As I laughed, tears ran down my face and I was bent double, unable to stand with the strength of the laugh. It was deeply embarrassing walking back to my seat, and, in fact, for the rest of the weekend! Despite the embarrassment, I felt happy. I hadn't felt happy for a long time. It was amazing to me to think that I had laughed so much.  It was like God had restored eighteen moths without laughter, in a brief moment. I remembered a verse that I have known since I was a child, but had never really understood fully until that moment,

"I will restore the years that the locust has eaten."

Later that weekend, I had a picture. As I closed my eyes, I saw a beautiful sunset. God told me that My healing would be like a sunset. When we watch a sunset, although we are waiting for the moment when the sun pops beneath the horizon, we still enjoy its journey. The beautiful colours and shapes of the cloud, the silhouettes of birds flying across it, the gradual movement. It's all so beautiful, and we all want to watch it, photograph it and share the photos with everyone on Facebook. God said that my healing would be the same - That it would be gradual, and it would be beautiful, and it would be watched by others.

About a year later, in a prayer meeting at a Leader's Day, a friend prayed over me. She prayed that "the hold of depression" would be lifted. Although I was not always depressed, I always had a niggling fear of when the next bout would be. After this prayer, I felt the fear lift. I knew that I was not healed completely, and that another bout would come, but I was no longer fearful of it coming. It was like the fear of depression had no hold over me anymore

Christmas has always been my favourite time of year. But it was always stressful. I had been prescribed Diazepam, a powerful muscle relaxant, for stress one year. It really helped me to rest and then sleep in the evenings, which made Christmas much more enjoyable for all of us.

Christmas 2012 arrived. For a couple years before, I had made the decision to fully engage with my family during advent. I wanted to enjoy the whole Christmas season, and not just work myself into depression for the sake of one day only. So, we began to celebrate each day with a special Christmas Job. Each day was different; reading Christmas books, watching Christmas movies, baking tasty treats, singing Christmas Carols, writing Christmas cards, enjoying school events - all together. Christmas 2012 was the same. A new tradition of the Christmas Cinema Trip was included, and we enjoyed our usual fun traditions and jobs. But this year, I forgot to get stressed. I said "no". A lot. I made my intentions clear to others. My family was my priority for the whole of December. My stress didn't arrive. Neither did the doses of Diazepam.

Christmas came and went. and 2013 began. Snow fell and I loved it. I went slegding with my family and had a snowball fight. I felt face-first into a deep pile of fluffy snow, rolled onto my back and laughed and laughed.Whenever the sun shined, I closed my eyes and tilted my head towards it's brightness. I soaked up as much Vitamin D as possible.

It wasn't until March that I realised that I hadn't taken any of my tablets since just before Christmas. I had simply forgotten to take them. I hadn't taken any at all. And I felt better. I didn't feel tired. I had stopped having afternoon sleeps. I hadn't retreated to my bed or hidden myself away. I didn't feel depressed. I remember telling Dave and being worried that he'd be cross with me for not taking my medication. He wasn't. He just said, in his calm, and yet completely excited way, "Wow...that's interesting..."

At the end of April, this year, our church met for ten days of prayer and fasting. I loved it! Spending time with with God was satisfying something deep inside of me. I heard His voice clearly during those ten days and I finally felt able to say, out loud, what I had felt since March...that God had healed me from depression. It felt scary, saying it out loud. What if I wasn't healed? What if it came back? What if I had to go back to taking medication? What if I had a rubbish day? Would everyone think less of me? Would I seem like a fraud?

The truth is, I get fed up. I still shout at my kids sometimes. I still get cross and disappointed and I still feel lonely sometimes. But, now, it doesn't last. Now, I can remind myself of the truth of my situation and I can lift my eyes to The One who helps me. I can get up, I can read a book, I can write clearly....mostly....and I don't have depression anymore. I do not feel afraid of it returning, because if it did, I know that God would never leave my side.

Healing came. It is beautiful. I am most definitely healed. Thank you Lord!


Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Gosh, it's been so long. So long, in fact, I'm expecting my laptop to auto-correct just like my phone. This is our new laptop. Our old one was partially melted (our son decided to check out YouTube whilst sitting right in front of our fireplace...when lit) and then me.
The poorly laptop wasn't the only reason that I stopped writing. I'd just had enough. Enough of the whole "out there" thing. Facebook, Twitter, blogging,'s all so exposing, and I'd just had enough of exposing myself, so to speak...
Who really cares what I think anyway? Why does my opinion need to be heard? Will it have any impact? Probably not, to be honest. But is that why I write? Do I want to change the world, or do I want to merely think out loud?
For years, I've been toying with the idea of writing a book. I have actually started two. One was being written with my husband. It was all about our journey. I used to be a single mum and when we met, he was a free and single bloke. Our journey of getting together, engaged, married and further sprogged-up has been as interesting as anyone else's journey.  We wondered if others in the same boat might benefit from learning through our mistakes and experiences, and if writing a book might be a good way to encourage both new dads and single mums. So, we gave it a go. We wrote about five chapters. Then we stopped. Dave then started writing a novel, and I started to write another book. This time, my book was an attempt to formulate my blogging into something tangible...parenting, creativity, school life, economy living, bla bla bla. It was flowing pretty well and the feedback was encouraging. But then it stopped.
I have a wonderful friend, who is one of my adopted big sisters. She lives in Singapore, and so we are far away from each other. Whenever she pops over to Old Blighty, we sit, chat, drink coffee and eventually get round to praying together. I had emailed the second book (half-complete) to her, after her having read the first book (also half-complete), and she came back to me with her thoughts..

"Who are you influencing?" she asked me. "Who are you influencing?" She urged me to return to the first book - our journey, our story. "Someone needs to hear your story, Sally," she said.

Her words have remained with me. As I drive around, "who are you influencing?" As I clean my house, "who are you influencing?" As I interact with my children, in times of conflict, play and grief, "who are you influencing?" As our old laptop crashed, and I lost the whole nine chapters of the second book, "who are you influencing?" As I returned to worship leading, after a five year break, "who are you influencing?" As I sit in front of this new laptop, blogging again, "who are you influencing?"

The truth is, when we expose ourselves, whether it be online, in public, on a stage, or in front of our children, we are influencing others. When we tell everyone our opinions on how we should conduct our lives, we are influencing others. When we have friends who value our opinions, and they listen/read what we say/write, we are influencing others. Writing a book could have no impact at all...or it could heavily influence someone. My funny little blog posts can hurt, wound, uplift or shape...just about anyone...and I have absolutely no control over how it all pans out.

The truth is, I am not a fan of responsibility. I don't really like being a grown-up. And although I tend to be a bossy boots, I don't enjoy the responsibility of leadership. Many times, I have stepped back from opportunities to lead, because it all feels like too big a responsibility. It all feels very scary. Because it actually is scary. Having been a teacher for a few years, and then having met my former students who are now adults, I have realised how much I have influenced others, and not always for the better. It is extremely easy to say or do the wrong thing. It is utterly impossible to control the way that my actions or words are received by others.

My words (and yours) can shape, hurt, destroy and irritate. That's why I struggle to write. I have read lots of blogs, books and Facebook posts. Most of us have. Some blogs are funny or moving, some books are original and inspiring, and some Facebook posts are challenging and genuinely fascinating. But most of it is not. I have read many books, but only a few have changed me. Occasionally, I read a blog post that brings me to tears, or makes me laugh, but have they changed me? Having said that, I love to read the posts of precious friends, especially if they are on a specific adventure or have an amazing story to tell - read EllieSpeaks (recommended to the left!! She is gorgeous and SO interesting!! What an amazing girl!! - there are others, but I'm not savvy enough to do the link-up thing!) Facebook posts either irritate me, make me momentarily giggle or merely fly straight passed my tired, numbed-to-the-word-vomit eyes and right over my head. And so...I guess what I'm saying is that I'd rather shut up. There are enough people writing out there! I'd rather reduce the noise slightly...and the potential collateral damage. Maybe I shouldn't have written this.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Jumbleberry Crumble

Recently, as I often do, I was watching Food UK (a TV channel devoted to cooking, baking and restaurant-related programmes.) I was enjoying an episode of one of the Nigella Lawson series, either Nigella Kitchen or Nigella Express. She was demonstrating a jam recipe called Jumbleberry Jam. I was taken with the name. There are certain words that I really love. These words make me smile and look out of my window into the garden, smiling about all that is good in life. They are cosy words. Words like "snuggle", "cobbler", "squishy", "rosey", "sandwich" and "jumble".  The word "Jumble" seems innocent and old-fashioned. It reminds me of my Nanny Pocock (my dad's mum) who was rather partial to Jumble Sales. It also reminds me of a book that I loved to read as a child. Topsy and and Tim books were among my favourites. One story saw Topsy and Tim visit the library. Whilst their mummy looked for her book, Topsy and Tim looked around. In the children's section, they noticed that all of the books looked "jumbled up". So they decided to tidy them up. All of the big books together, and all of the little books together. Ah yes, that looked much better, not at all jumbled up anymore. That was what they thought, until their mummy came over, and explained that, in fact, they had not been jumbled up at all. They were in a special order, called "Alphabetical Order", and that because Topsy and Tim had moved the books, they were now far more jumbled up than before!

Jumble. It's a lovely word. Jumble. When I was little there were times when I felt a bit jumbled. Maybe I was worried or tired. But I couldn't quite explain my feelings by any other way than describing them as "jumbled."

I'm feeling rather jumbled this evening too. My blog is not something I write often enough to be a hobby, but I do feel obliged every now and then to write something. The problem I have is that I can only write when I have something to say. Sometimes I have nothing to say, and then sometimes I have too much to say. Tonight I have a fair bit to say, but I wonder if anyone is really that interested, because, very little of it is that interesting. So...I'll go to my "go to" for when I'm feeling a bit jumbled. The trusty old list....

Things That I am Considering/Experiencing At The Moment

1. Loaf Cakes....I am making a lot of them. Sticky Ginger Cake, Golden Syrup Cake, Lemon Drizzle Cake, Banana Loaf. A cake in a loaf shape satisfies me intensely. I feel like an amazing 1950s domestic goddess who is enjoying a life of rationing and traditional British living...don't know why...I just do.

2. Teeth...My littlest lost his first tooth, and therefore received his first teeny letter and 20p piece from the Tooth Fairy. Seth's is called Felix Featherleaf. Indy's is called Florence Fern. Roo's is called Fernando Foxglove. They all receive letters and shiny pennies or 20p pieces every time they lose a tooth. Indy has today had a mini brace called a spacer fitted at the dentist. She will eventually need a massive load of orthodontic treatment, as will Roo, who recently lost another molar which was pretty messy...eeeeew.

3. Crochet. I have a beautiful and extremely brave friend, Emma, who excellently parents two lovely little boys, en seule. ( I have to say somethings in French when I talk about Emma. Along with another friend, who is also called Emma, we often speak French to each other as we are very posh, intelligent and European.) ANYWAY...Emma showed me a photo of a rather smashing crochet blanket, which I have developed an obsession for. I have, therefore, been crocheting, and even dreaming in crochet, in an attempt to work out exactly how to make it. I love crocheting, but it makes my forefinger

4. (Almost) Teenage Nightmares. I've got one. He is one. Nothing more to share, other than that I have worked with teenagers for about 15 years now, both as a teacher and a youth leader. I have always found teenagers to be so much fun, so interesting and so lovely. I think mainly because they have always thought me pretty cool, funny and worthy of their time. My own (almost) teenager, however, thinks I am the biggest loser there is. So that's fun.

5. Money. Or lack thereof. We got to Day 3 of January (January 3rd, nonetheless) and discovered that there were no funds available. We got cross, scared and cried a bit. Then two kind and generous friends handed us cheques; one for £30 and one for £1000. And that, my friends, is what God does. We act irresponsibly, we blame God for it, and he bails us out. Grace - an undeserved gift of love. He is Grace.

6. Snow. I know it irritates many. I like it. I don't mind driving in it. I quite like playing in it. I LOVE staying home from work or school because of it. I also love to look at it, over a steaming cup of tea, from my sofa, with the fire on and my feet in slippers. I do not like the challenge it presents to homeless people, the emergency services, elderly folks and my best friend organising her son's 10th Birthday party (poor Josh...) So, it snowed, then it stopped, then it snowed again. It would be so fun and greatly appreciated if Christmas Eve 2013 would be the next snowy day, please God. Fanks.

7. Weight Watchers. I 've lost 14 lbs - a whole stone. But I am struggling with saying "no" to cake at the moment...Please pray for me, dear friends. This could be my year, but I need a kick up the bum to keep going!!! I do have a secret weapon...but more of that as I progress....


Okay, so I have crumbled slightly over the last few weeks. I have cried, shouted, and I even broke an old dining room chair leg....I have felt sad, cross, worried, frustrated and hopeless. I guess that's depression for you. But I also guess that it could be described as being overwhelmed. Life is full...of blessings and complications. I have much to be grateful for. But being a creative mind, means that my thinking is often jumbled and my brain is full. I want to make, to walk, to run away, to stay and cuddle, to shop, to write, to drink coffee, to bake, to draw, to organise, to sew, to clean, to stop.

When this much stuff is a possibility, I am at great risk of crumbling. This post is pretty jumbled, and I'm sure that I've shown my hand in terms of where I am at the moment. I'm okay. I'm pretty happy. I do feel a bit jumbled...but the jumble can be beautiful. And, as Topsy and Tim discovered, sometimes jumbled is the way it's supposed to be.


Friday, 5 October 2012

The other day, a friend asked me why I blog. My reply was that I usually get a "bee in my bonnet" about something, feel ready to burst and then have no choice but to get in "out there" somehow. This post is not really like that, though. This post is more of a response to a few requests for ideas.

My blog is called "Homemade Sal" and sometimes I wonder if I should be posting more about what I'm making. I have assumed it to be a bit boring, so I've not tended to do it much so far, but hopefully this will be helpful in giving some ideas to people who might want some....

Autumn seems to be my "New Start" Season. With the dark nights, I tend to sleep more, eat more and stay in more, but I also really notice the change in seasons so much more than with the other seasons, and so "new" seems inevitable. I go clothes shopping (something that I avoid as much as possible) in a desperate search for woolly tights, cosy boots, snoods and scarves, and soft cardigans. I cook more cosy food like casseroles and soups, make bread, cookies and cakes, and finish off my jam-making from my late-Summer foraging. I notice the dust and dirt in the house more, and so I start cleaning like a mental woman, and I love a good Bin Liner Session in each room where broken toys, ripped books, and grown-out of clothes get sorted into recycle/rubbish tip bags. I also tend to begin to focus on Christmas preparation, and my shopping begins in earnest, hiding bags in random unreachable places, in an attempt to make our money stretch whilst still keeping surprises for the kids.

In this New Start Season, I try to make some changes. I really enjoy meal-planning (I know, it's so sad) and I thought I'd share my new plans in this post. In order to load my kids up with good food for the flu season, I have decided to include some big, hearty dishes to our mealtimes, replacing the salad and jacket potatoes of the Summer. And I love to try new recipes...So, this is how it's working at the moment...

On Mondays we have homemade soup and bread. So far, we've had Tomato & Basil, Beetroot, Leek & Potato, and Chicken Noodle. Not all popular, but I felt very smug.

On Tuesdays we have a pasta dish of some kind. Tuna Pasta Bake, Spaghetti Bolognaise, Cheese and Broccoli Pasta Bake. The kids LOVE pasta, especially my eldest son who, at 12 years old, is growing like crazy!

On Wednesdays I keep it simple...Meat and Two Veg. A classic, but I usually add an interesting marinade for the meat. The kids really like it and have very little to complain about. Sometimes I make a Meatloaf with an amazing tomato and clove sauce that is always a hit with my lot.

On Thursdays, it's Cosy and Hearty Night...Chicken Casserole, Honey Beef Stew & Dumplings, Sausage Casserole, Chilli, Sweet & Sour Pork, Shepherds Pie...mmmmm.

On Fridays, I give myself a break. Tonight it was Fish Fingers & Potato Wedges. My kids love Boiled Eggs & Soldiers, or a Cooked Breakfast for tea. Whatever it is, it's usually junk and they love it....

Saturdays is my absolute favourite day. We lay a big blanket out on the lounge floor, sit together in front of Saturday evening TV and devour our Adventure Meal. Our Adventure Meals are usually something we can eat with our hands, Pizza, Curry & Chapatis (made by Daddy), Fajitas, Nachos, Cheese Fondue, Raclette...basically any food that it adventurous to eat. Sometimes, I do  a Favourite Meal on a Saturday night...BBQ Ribs for Roo, Smoked Salmon for Indy & Seth and Lasagne for Dave.

On Sundays we've always enjoyed a family Roast dinner...(we ENJOY it, but we don't always manage it!!) Roasts are yummy and great for left overs and ALWAYS call for a pudding afterwards...last week was Grasshopper Pie and this week it'll be Banoffee Pie....soooooooooooo yum.

I find that planning my meals saves me lots of money and seems to take a lot of the stress out of life. I plan a few weeks in advance and then when it comes to dinner time, I know what's on the menu!

My recipes come from books, the Internet, my mum, my memories. I like to cook food that I like to eat. And I LOVE cosy, warming, hearty food. Maybe that's one of the reasons I love this season.