It’s a baby (stick insect)!

An unexpected baby, born in an unusual place, not knowing one of his parents… now where have I heard that before?!

I had a bonus Christmas present the end of last week: one baby stick insect.

Baby stick insect – Oswin aged about 4 days, December 2012

You will recall Poppy, Lily and Oliver and my concern about sex-education lessons for my class.  Well that round of behaviours actually started last Christmas, rather hilariously / embarrassingly when the stick insects were staying with the boys in the spare room at their Grandparents house. Somehow it either never happened at school or was never spotted, but Oliver’s quest for fatherhood was a diligent one at times.

Websites give Thorny Sabah an adult lifespan of nine months, but it still felt too soon when one of the females died (nominated Lily, since the girls were identical to our eyes) at Easter.  We were less surprised in mid-November when Poppy died, and I started to wonder what to do when Oliver passes on – do I source more stick insects, or try to work out another fur-less feather-less, allergy-free, non-toxic class pet that would fit into my busy life?

Not that Oliver had any plans for leaving – he was and is still a lively and sociable fellow, even if he is nearing his second birthday and one to his third class of children.

But then I got my Christmas present.  One tiny little stick insect, still quite rolled up from being in the egg, and well spotted by son number two when I was cleaning Oliver out, ready for another Christmas trip to the Grandparents.  (All tank emptyings from there on have involved minute leaf inspections to reduce the risk of throwing any more offspring away!)

You might recall that doctorwhofan98 is my elder son, and our dog bears the theme, burdened with the name Gallifrey (planet of the Time Lords).  After much angst and impatient waiting, we watched the Christmas episode and began to see how Jenna-Louise Colman who died as Oswin the Dalek could also be Jenna-Louise Coleman who died as Clara Oswin Oswald after falling from the TARDIS.  The mystery deepens (as she must somehow live on now she is known to be the new companion!), but the name stuck.  Oswin is actually a boy’s name (meaning ‘God’s friend’ – oh yes!), but Oswin / Jenna-Louise is female, so the unknown gender of this little sticklet for some months yet (until maturity) is suited for either result, without a need to a name change (like his father Olivia!)

Any guesses how many other eggs might yet hatch readers?!

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OFSTED calling

What a week!  (Although, strictly speaking, it was now last week because although I started this on Sunday, I was too busy catching up with myself and bone weary from it all to finish!)  Isn’t it amazing what can happen in just one week?  Most are predictable and fly by, and then just occasionally it is all complete unexpected and you look back to what feels like a much longer period of time.  Doctorwhofan98 is off to Normandy with the school orchestra next month, and I have tried explaining to him that this is how that special week will feel like (in a good way), but he is too caught up in all the exams and assessments he has to get through first, before he goes.  (Perhaps I could go instead – they’d never notice the change of gender, size, lack of musical talent, etc and then I could get to see the Bayeux Tapestry!)

Anyway, last weekend I was looking forward to a lighter work load than usual – school was closed on the Monday for the teachers to have time to write the end of year reports.  (A job that actually takes about one hour per pupil for the four page document, so thirty plus hours!)  Did I say a lighter week?  My reports were already finished from a month of using my ‘spare’ time wisely – I work badly under pressure near to deadlines!  So the day was shaping up to be one of my favourite in the year – walk son number two to school, make chilli for his birthday the following day, do some tie-dyeing as well as clean… potter and be the housewife I don’t have time to be in my normal existence.  But the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  The route to school was through woods and fields.  Pollen, pollen and more POLLEN.  Son’s treatment for hay fever was not up to it, and I had to go back to school with his eye-drops at lunchtime and ended up collecting him from school early as well.  All from being a kind parent and not sending him off to pre-school childcare that day!  After the mid-day trip to his school, I checked emails and there it was: the OFSTED phone call had been received at my school.  Dread.  Any teachers amongst you will know that stomach-dropping moment.  And there the day transformed as if the sun had been replaced by storm clouds.  Polishing up of lesson plans that had already been done for the week.  Plans from scratch for lessons I don’t usually teach.  Resources to make to try to ensure everything perfectly ready for every moment of the two-day visit.  Son’s green gunking eyes got eye drops but no TLC, although that still meant I could not rush in to school as we were being asked to, to tidy up and prepare there.

Tuesday was a long day, with staff queued up by the gates at 7am, waiting for them to open, and a seriously annoyed caretaker at the other end of the day, who didn’t get to close up until gone seven in the evening.  (And poor son number 2 had had to open his birthday presents on the Monday night, before the OFSTED storm really hit!)

Wednesday was tough – little time to get anything ready with meetings and interviews as well as observations.  My student had his final observation of his placement by his tutor and I was observed for maths, both of which went really well.  Neither of the special lessons I did on the afternoon, when I don’t usually teach, were seen, although I was happy with them.

Thursday we knew we were nearly there, as the inspectors tend to huddle away in the afternoon to write their report and there were two of them around instead of Wednesday’s three.  I was observed teaching phonics and straight through into the literacy lesson.  My work was rated well, which was a relief after what one of the boys wiped down one of the girls jumper in front of the lead inspector.  Frustratingly, my overall score was lowered by the poor work of my support colleague, who has had so much training and support this year to try and break her out of her slow monotone delivery that I am at a loss as for what to do.

And it was over.  4:20 so the outcome and it was a universal ‘Good’.  Thank God.

And now we have a staff that walk around like exhausted zombies and are counting down to the end of term, even though that is another 3 and a half weeks.  How does this benefit the children?!  But it will be a while before the next call, so we get back to all the good work, and considering that two cycles ago, the school was in special measures having failed, and last time they got out of those special measure with a ‘satisfactory’, the ‘good’ this time could even become an ‘outstanding’ if we work for it.  Quite an achievement when looked at like that.

As was all the husband did, from altering his own work patterns with the blessing of his boss, so he could work from home and ensure all got fed and watered here.  What a star!

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Self-help made easy

The self-help movement is massive and goes back further than you would think for such a modern-feeling phenomenon.  James Allen launched the idea over a hundred years ago, with his book ‘As a man thinketh’.  Not such a modern title, I agree.

It can be called humanism – the idea that it is within human power to change anything.  Written within you is the key to your success.  Or so we are told.

And yet, so we tell others.  As a teacher myself, I really want the children I come into contact with the grow up believing that they can make a difference to their own education and their own lives.  But had you thought that this idea can be taken too far?

Norman Vincent Peale taught that ‘Positive thinking is another term for faith’.  That doesn’t sound like a quote from an ordained Christian leader!  Isn’t it odd how preachers can sound just like self-help gurus?!

Paul in Romans 7 was certainly trying  to help people, specifically those in Rome, although I am sure that history has accused him at times of being confusing rather than helpful.  He had previously been apparently dismissing the law hundreds of Jewish generations knew like the back of their hands.  Now he was explaining the value of the same laws.  Confused yet?

The law, as an expression of God’s character, shows the sinfulness of sin.  All sin.  Not just the ‘big’ sins like murder, but the ‘little’ sins like covertness.  Because neither have size – sin IS sin.

The law shows the sinfulness of our hearts: our desire to rebel.

The law shows me that I need Jesus.  And that argument follows through whether you hold that Paul is talking in verses 14 – 20 about himself as a Christian or a ‘slave’, i.e. non-Christian.  Either way, look in the mirror to see the problem!  And who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So the answer of salvation we need to hold in our hearts and our heads is not the Old Testament:

The law, the law, the law…!

Nor Tony Blair’s 2007:

Education, education, education…!

But God’s route, taught to us through Paul:

Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ…!

Because we don’t need self-help.  We need God-help.

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Barnabas – what a guy!

Most people who have encounters with the Bible may have heard of Barnabas, but I am imagine quite a few were like me, and couldn’t place him beyond the fact that he was in the New Testament.  I think it’s time he became more known and recognised!

Firstly, the name we know him by isn’t his birth name, which was Joseph, but like many of his time, his known name is a nickname reflecting the amazing act of generosity he made, selling all his goods and giving the money to the apostles in Jerusalem.  He wasn’t the only one supporting the group that way, so I think it must have also been other facets of his character, but he became Barnabas, the ‘son of encouragement’ from then on.

He wasn’t only a generous and sacrificial giver, though, but one who gave the fruits of his own work.  And one who risked his life for Jesus and the Gospel.  He brought outsiders like a dangerous Jew called Saul to the faith: he was open-minded not dogmatic, and thought beyond the Jewish mindset.  This attitude got Barnabas and Paul into trouble, but also, ironically, caused a clash between Barnabas and Paul.

All this ‘Barnabas and Paul’ thing needs to be explained.  Barnabas was Paul’s mentor, the one who trained the man who is perceived as the most influential early Christian missionary.  Barnabas did more than potter around the edges of the early Christian missionary field!  Yet he didn’t sit in the glory of what he had achieved at all, but allowed himself to slide into the background when the gifted Paul was ready to take on the full mantel.  So if Paul is the founder of Christianity, what does that make Barnabas?!

Barnabas also worked closely with another key player of the time, John Mark, who is held to have written the Gospel of Mark.  John Mark wasn’t the most confident of evangelists, and actually quit his work with Barnabas and Paul, which caused Paul to write him off.  But not Barnabas.  And when he wanted to work with John Mark again, it caused a split with Paul that sent them in different geographic directions.  Yet, much later, Paul called for John Mark because he would be useful to him!  We can ask ourselves if, without Barnabas, would we have the Gospel of Mark?  How many other people of talent have been lost throughout history because there was no ‘son of encouragement’ to give them a second chance?

And that is the message for us all.  There are many role models in the Bible: striding prophets imbued with God’s message; amazing saints whom we can revere and hope to emulate in small ways.  But we can go for broke with Barnabas: look at those around us and their Christian work with positive eyes; encourage and don’t give up on them; be a little less judgmental, a little suspicious and try to become a son or daughter of encouragement.

If you want to read more, have a look at this super website page I found when writing this:

http://www.hurtingchristian.org/PastorsSite/otherscripture/acts15-35-41.htm

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The newest member of the family

I haven’t written since something like November.  I kind of ran out of time – work seems to take steadily over my whole life, from 50 plus hours a week, it has been climbing, and that makes me wonder what will happen when it exceeds 168!  I had to explain, otherwise someone might start putting the title and the long silence together and jumping to the wrong conclusion.  No thank to that idea – son number 2 starts secondary school in the autumn.  I don’t nappies and all that faff again.  No.  The newest member of the family is already so old he’s borderline incontinent and is very noisy in his old ways.  He is officially for my zero birthday in the summer, but he won’t be magically new again for that or any other occasion, I am sure.  But interestingly, although he is ‘mine’, my husband seems to be spending a great deal of time and from the size of the shopping list, a great deal more money, on what is clearly HIS new hobby.  Take a look:

vikram2cv.wordpress.com

And I promise to try and post here again in under 6 months time!

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Judging others

We judge other people so easily and frequently in our society: their behaviour, opinions, etc.  We do it more than any of us realise.  But who are we to do so?  On the other hand, if we shouldn’t judge others, does that mean we should swallow what other people say and tell us and be gullible?  So when is it okay or even right to make a judgement?  Matthew talks about this quandary in chapter 7.  And if we are watching out for wolves in the clothing of sheep (verse 15) then we must make a judgement.  But we have got to do it differently to the Pharisees (Matthew chapter 5, verse 20) – the Pharisees were on a fault-finding mission and loved to look down on others and condemn them.  Such behaviour makes you feel good by comparison – see Luke chapter 18 verse 9 – 14 for example – but how it make others feel?

Back in Matthew chapter 7, verse 1 tells us:

‘Do not judge of you too will be judged.’

The translation of the word ‘judge’ can mean to have an opinion, but it can also mean to condemn, and this is what Jesus means: don’t act like God.  It is not your job!

The example given in verses 3 – 5 is ludicrous, a deliberate joke.  And that is how ridiculous it is when we have a condemning attitude to our Christian brothers: you cannot help them and only make things worse!  It’s hypocrisy!

So how should you behave?  Verse 5 tells us: sort yourself out first.  See yourself as a sinner who needs a saviour.  Then (and only then!) can you help others.  It is not about pretending that there are no specks in people’s eyes – it is that you can only help other people with the right attitude.  And that attitude will include being:

  • humble
  • merciful
  • helpful

In practise this means:

  • Don’t gossip (And gossip includes the much more insidious talking about people you don’t get on with in negative terms).
  • Be patient, not aggressive: be humble (Don’t you ever get it wrong yourself?!  Don’t pass on the hurt that others inflicted on you when you made a mistake!)

What about the flip side of this – should you be a door mat?  Well verse 6 tells us not to be naive.  There are times when there is a need to discern.  If you tell someone about the love of God and they repeatedly throw it back at you, ridicule and mock it, they are not learning, other than that they can mock the scripture and the Lord our God and they are ripping you to shreds like the pigs and the dogs verse 6 tells us of.  Instead look at what Paul did in Acts chapter 18 – he went off to teach others.

Don’t imagine that making such a decision is easy: it must be tough!  You will need all the strength and wisdom of God.  In other words, you need to pray.  Pray for wisdom, pray for  humility, pray for discernment.  Have faith: as the loving parent He will answer the prayer.

(But don’t take all this asking God out of context.  This is about His help in making a decision and teaching others of Him.  People have taken this passage in the Bible out of context many, many times, and think that they can ask for a cruise, a Rolls Royce, a mansion and it will be granted.  that is not the same at all.  God will grant you what you need to do His work.  Personal pampering is not on that list.)

So do judge others, but clean your own eyes out of planks and other debris.  It’s not easy to do God’s will and work, but keep trying.  He forgives you when you get it wrong, so forgive yourself, but also forgive others when they get it wrong, and always, always keep trying.

And have a look at this:-)

http://www.worshiphousemedia.com/mini-movies/17747/Judging-Others

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Grockle and Gadzooks all grown up

Zookie exploring

Grockle checking out the scenery

Grockle on the left, Gadzooks on the right

Nosey boy

I promised some better pictures, and now they are more tame, they pose for the camera in curiosity.

Gadzooks is a very relaxed chap, with a passion for pumpkin seeds.  Pumpkin orange on the outside and full of seeds on the inside.

Grockle is shyer but learns to trust if you earn it.  His favourite nibble is sunflower seeds.

Both are mature males with a massive addiction to cardboard and can reduce a moderate-sized box to tiny pieces in half an hour.  I have read that a small Scottish island did keep gerbils in the police station in the past to destroy documents that had been finished with in.  Very green!

 

 

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Meet the politican

I have always viewed MPs and other politicians with light distrust in the same vein as car sale men and insurance brokers.  That is not to say that I did not vote.  After the lengthy history of campaign for suffrage in the UK, first for the common man as opposed to the wealthy landowners and then for womans votes, I have always wanted to exercise my rights, even if some elections have left plenty to be desired.

But it has always been about policies and not about the people: they have always came across as self-serving and slippery.  Look at the expenses scandal – well paid politicians claiming huge amounts of money for irrelevant things in greed.

A couple of days ago, I had the opportunity to meet a ‘real live’ politician.  It was not something I organised out of person interest, but in my teacher capacity, helping our school council to better understand their role and see it in a wider perspective.  And this worked well, but so much more besides.

The politician in question is the local MP for the area including the school I teach in, Hilary Benn.  Quite a big player – member of the Cabinet when Labour was in power and now a member of the Shadow Cabinet.

But a self-centred man?  Never!  The time he dedicated to the children and the personal interest that he showed in them was remarkable.  His skill at explaining things to them, his patience, his manner with children – all were impressive in but none more than his basic humility.  The children not only learned a wide range of things from Hilary but so did I.   The range of skills, amount of time and deep commitment needed to do a complex job like his well.  I can see that in politics, as in teaching, only the bad news is mentioned and all the hard work is glossed over by the press.

I have been inspired and humbled  I am sure that some politicians are self-serving but there are real people out there working for the good of others in big ways.  They need and deserve more that just our vote.

Image via Wikipedia - not just a politician but a most genuine person.

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Do not worry

We live in a society of stress – jobs, health, appearance, wealth, relationships, number of friends… the list goes on and on.  We all have so much to worry about, yet God does not want this for us.  He wants us to place it all on Him and STOP WORRYING.

Matthew chapter 6 remind us of this.  Not to worry about what we eat and drink.  Not to worry about our clothes.  Not to worry about where the basics of our life will come from.  I think you could take it a step further, and say that Matthew is also telling us not to worry about our body image, obsessing about being too fat or thin or any other shape.

And why shouldn’t we worry?  Because God loves us: ‘I am your Father and I love you even as I love my son, Jesus’ (John 17 verse 23).

But more than that, worrying takes your life focus to a wrong place.

What you chose to worry about, focus on, has consequences for your life.  This world’s kingdom is temporary like those neat ice hotels that are built every winter in places like Norway.  They are so impressive in winter, yet they melt away to a puddle in the spring.  Most things in our lives are that ephemeral.

What is more important – the state of your bank balance or the state of your spiritual life?

Are you living for something that will last?

Jimmy Savile’s epitaph is ‘It was good while it lasted’, but if we are living in God’s kingdom we are living in an eternal kingdom: it will last!

Worry is unproductive, even counter-productive.  It is unnecessary: God will provide (although we are talking about the basic necessities, not the luxuries of ‘Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?’).  In the Lord’s Prayer we ask ‘Give us this day our daily bread’.  It seems a small and insignificant request after the opening ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’  Yet it does matter to God.  He cares about the small details.

All this does not mean that won’t be tough times.  With the economic downturn, many are seeing those times right now.  And that is still nothing compared with how most live on this planet.  God allows suffering, but for a purpose: to encourage our dependence on Him.

And we should not just lie back and wait for it all to be brought to us.  Just not worry.  God is there.

And this does not absolve us of our responsibility to the poor and needy.  Yes God is helping them, but just maybe you are the manifestation of His hand in this matter!

When we worry we demonstrate our lack of trust in God.  You need to put God firmly at the centre stage of your everyday life.  Get your priorities right and the other things will fall into place.


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A gift worth giving

Making a difference to children's lives

Have you heard of ‘Operation Christmas Child’ by the Samaritan’s Purse charity?  I had, but it was really brought into focus yesterday, when we had a speaker at church.  He doesn’t work for the charity, nor was there to plug it, but it has been a very real part of his life.  Not only has he packed shoe boxes with small gifts to received by children in poorer countries and war zones, sharing the love of God in tangible ways but he received shoe boxes for a number of Christmases as a child growing up in post-communist Romania.

Operation Christmas Child started by one driven man in 1990, when the world began to learn of the plight of people, and especially children as the Iron Curtain fell.  But unlike most, he not stare in horror at the pictures of children that defy description and instead decided to collect some useful items and take a van over there.  His idea spread as he took it to the local radio station, and in the end it was not one van but a convoy of lorries that went over that first December.

Now something like 24 million boxes are delivered to the most needy children in the most needy countries each December.  And like everything in our world, there is controversy, as I found when I searched for more background information on the charity – accusations of racism and intolerance.  As one who has packed boxes in the past with anticipation and love, and I am saddened that there are such concerns and allegations.

But let’s focus on a larger picture still.  Of another gift freely given. The gift God gave us all, yet mankind snatched unthankingly from His divine hand whilst rejecting Him and all He stands for.

What is sin?  What does it mean to you?  Modern society seems to have downgraded it from something horrendous and unspeakable to something a little bit naughty and therefore exciting.

Yet the Bible reminds us that:

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4 verse 13)

And that:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 6 verse 23)

God does not want us to die, so He prepared the gift of Jesus.  We have a choice: accept this gift, or reject it.

But think how those first people felt as the took the lorry loads of health equipment and supplies over to Romania, as they walked into the orphanages and gave those first children the first shoe boxes of gifts, for many the first presents they had been given in their lives.  How would they have felt if their gifts had been rejected?  Or taken but then they themselves then thrown out?

George Bernard Shaw wanted to pay for his own sins, yet you cannot be saved by your own grace and nor could he.  Kinsley Amis carried his own sins around but we don’t have to.  It’s our choice, whether to accept the gift of God in the form of Jesus Christ and His death on the cross.

Or not.

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