The power of one gentle spirit

On Wednesday 28th February my dear Granny Merle went home to heaven. She went gently and gracefully, just the way she had lived here on earth.

It was long before I was born that Granny’s life was reborn. She became a Christian when my dad was just a teenager. Her conviction that Jesus Christ was real changed her life for good, and her life response to this conviction changed generations more lives to come.

Granny had her share of hurt in this world. As a young woman she became a single mother to four children. Later she was forced to leave the homeland she loved to start a new life in a new country. In her last years she was afflicted by a cruel motor neuron disease, which slowly robbed her of all independence and replaced it with constant discomfort and pain. Yet she bore everything she suffered with the most humble and loving spirit; never complaining, always grateful for what she had.  (Philippians 2:14)

Granny’s Christianity was a lived out faith. She was not a passive pew-warmer. Granny knew that the truth she had discovered was something that needed to be shared, and one way she did this was by going around the neighbourhood and inviting anyone who was interested to Bible studies, to learn more about the good news she had found. It just so happened that she knocked on the door of a lady called Margaret, a post-Buddhist agnostic who thought Christianity was a hypocritical fairy tale. However after throwing all her favourite trick questions at these Christians, and finding surprisingly sensible and irrefutable answers, Margaret eventually came to realise that this Jesus of the Bible was indeed real. Because of Granny Merle, Margaret and her children became Christians, too. Later on Margaret’s daughter would marry Merle’s son, and become my parents. What a rich heritage.  (1 Peter 3:15)

A life transformed by Jesus should look like love in action, and this is exactly what Granny Merle’s life was. Unable to find a job once she moved to England, Granny did find herself lots of spare time. She wasted none of it. For a while she became a Betterware representative in order to bring in a small income, and as she delivered catalogues to her neighbours she became aware of many lonely, elderly people in her local area. For years Granny faithfully visited and befriended these isolated folk, caring for them until they passed on, infusing their lives with joy and love.  (James 1:22)

At home Granny was characterised by gentle kindness. It was impossible to visit without her making you feel loved. Her servant-heart, generous nature and always gentle voice were standard, and all too easy to take for granted. But the effect of her constant, daily tender love was profound, and has influenced all her family and friends for the better.  (Ephesians 4:2)

Granny has left a legacy of love which has spread across generations and to people across the world. Her faith in God has poured down to her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. Her gentle spirit has touched the hundreds of people who knew her, no matter how briefly. She was truly a reflection of the love of Jesus, and she made the world a better place.  (Psalm 103:17)

The beauty of Granny’s gentle and quiet spirit will never fade. The power of her humble, gracious love will go on transforming lives. Thank God for Granny Merle.


Granny Merle

‘Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.’  1 Peter 3:3-4





A friend of mine put up a quote on Facebook recently, which really spoke to my heart:

God doesn’t give you the people you want. Instead, he gives you the people you need – to teach you, to hurt you, to love you, and to make you exactly the way you’re meant to be.

As a foster carer people often tell me that I’m doing an amazing job. They watch me hold, love and let go of children that I long to keep. And in one sense, they are right. I am doing an amazing job; it’s an amazing privilege to step into a child’s life and form part of their story. But I am not amazing.

We have just come to the end of a three month placement. E, age 6, and B, age 2, came to us last November, a week after our first little love went home. They had had a life full of trauma. E told us things so nonchalantly. Things that a 6 year old should never even know about, let alone experience. B was terrified of simple sounds, and she spent the first night screaming for hours, not knowing why she had suddenly been taken from everything she knew and put with strangers.

The first week was a big adjustment, but we took it in our stride. As time went on the girls began to relax. They began to feel safe. They began to open up, and this is where it got really hard. After three weeks E began to show us just how much damage the trauma had done to her. She became everything we had been told to expect during our foster training, but experiencing it in real life is something different. We began to have daily meltdowns over nothing, where E would scream, kick, hit, throw, pinch, spit, bite, and generally try to destroy everything. These meltdowns could last up to two hours, and could happen several times a day, especially during weekends and holidays. She just couldn’t process all the awful, awful things that she had experienced, and she was letting us know the only way she knew how.

‘Theraputic parenting’ is the term we use to describe our way of dealing with foster children. PACE – Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy: these are the tools we use, built on a foundation of love, firm boundaries and total acceptance. There were many times when I was being scratched and hit that I was able to respond with deep empathy. When I could look in E’s eyes and tell her that I knew she was hurting so badly, and that’s why she felt like she needed to hurt me too, and that was okay. There were times I could respond to spiteful words with humour and diffuse the situation. There were times when, yes, I was doing an amazing job.

But that’s only half of the story. There were many times when I did not want to deal with another meltdown, and wished the school day was longer. Many times when E’s deliberate attempts to hurt and provoke me, succeeded. Many times when patience was not a virtue I possessed. Many time when despite knowing it was not her fault, I felt like it was. There were times when, no, I was definitely not amazing.

Guilt. I am not the perfect foster parent that I want to be. Confusion. I truly believe God called me to this job, and that He has equipped me for it – so why can’t I do it better?

This morning I listened to a podcast by a very dear friend of mine, who was talking about why he believes ‘just be who you are’ is a message which means well, but does people a disservice. It stunts our growth and stalls us in our current place of imperfection rather than helping us move into who we are meant to be. No one is perfect. And although we are all created unique and wonderful in our own ways, we are not yet the best version of ourselves. God put people and situations in our path not only so we can help them, but so we can grow.

The difference between a master and an amateur, they say, is that a master has made many more mistakes. As we wait for the next broken lives to come live with us, my prayer is that I will have learnt from my mistakes. That next time I will be more of who God has called me out to be. That I will love better, and be a truer reflection of God’s grace and mercy.


Foster love: why I can’t let go, but choose to anyway

So many people have said to me over the last few months, as we have been approved as foster carers and had our first placement,

“Oh, I couldn’t do that. I could never hand them back!”

I get that. I totally, totally get that. I used to say the exact same thing myself, when friends of mine became foster carers and I watched them take in these precious, tiny babies then let them go again after investing so much. How could they do that? I just knew I couldn’t.

But here’s the thing. Anyone who just ‘can’ will probably never make a good foster carer.

Because fostering is not just about taking a child into your home. It’s about taking them into your heart. These are kids who have suffered things you and I really can’t imagine. Kids who have been abused, neglected, rejected. When they are taken into care they need someone who is willing to love them fiercely, wholeheartedly. They need to be loved as if they were your own. And yes, that means when they leave you will be heartbroken, because it will feel like letting go of your own children. But that is what they need. They need to matter to someone. They need to be loved so hard by someone who never wants to let them go. They need to be worth someone’s heartbreak.

Having said goodbye to our first little love last week, I have had my first taste of heartbreak. She wasn’t with us long, but we loved her completely. Since she left I keep thinking I hear her. I woke last night thinking she was crying for me. I keep thumbing through photos of her, missing her so much.

There is an undercurrent to that phrase “I couldn’t do that”. It’s almost as if, without meaning to, people assume that the only way to let go is to love less. That somehow we must love less, if we can handle saying goodbye. And I’m not blaming anyone – remember, I said the same thing myself. It’s just that I came to realise that my own heartbreak was nothing in comparison to what these children are going through. If they have no choice but to live through trauma, fear and broken relationships, surely I can give of myself in order for them to experience uninhibited love, no matter the cost to my own heart?

So we will keep loving each child who comes into our home as if they were our own. And we will endure the heartbreak of saying goodbye. Because they need us to love without holding back, more than we need to be spared the ache of letting them go.


Life has found a peaceful rhythm recently. We’re in a season of (relative) rest. Since January this year we have had more time at home and fewer pressing commitments. It has been a time of strengthening family relationships and finding time to pursue interests and education more fully.

Princess working in the sunshine. Window seat for the win!

Prince and Princess have settled into a routine of waking, personal devotional, Morning High Five, then on to Learning Fun. By the time I finish my own personal time with God and come downstairs they have usually started on their work. They have always been good at working independently, but this season has seen a real step up in this. It seems I have hardly noticed them getting older, and all of sudden they are Big.

Big is good. Big is exciting. I love the people my Littles are becoming. But I have to confess – I really miss the Littles, too.

Our days are a mixture of learning independently and together. We do the hard things together, because it’s so much more friendly with two. We do the fun things together, too – read-alouds, walks, picnics, games, day trips, play-dates, church. But we also have time to work, play and rest independently, completing our own tasks and following our own interests. Our days are rich in love and fun.

Enjoying this season; preparing for the next.

I’ve had more time this season for reading. As some of you know, we had been pursuing the idea of adoption over the past four years. This journey took a twist earlier this year, and we are now part way through fostering training and assessment. This season of rest has allowed me to spend more time learning about how to help the types of children who may come in and out of our family in the future. The reading has also helped me develop skills, understanding and new ways to help Prince and Princess during time of anxiety, sadness and change. My favourite book so far is Building the Bonds of Attachment – a great read for anyone interacting with traumatised or challenged kids on a regular basis.

I don’t know when the next season will come, or what it will bring. I suspect it will be much fuller – in both trials and joys. But for now we are soaking up this season, full of its own beauties and blessings.

To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven
(Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Piles of washing and mountains of love


Piles of washing, still waiting.

I probably should have spent the morning at home. There are dirty dishes in the kitchen and piles of washing waiting to be put away on my bed. I haven’t even finished unpacking from our mini holiday last weekend. But this morning called us to something better.

Over the years our homeschool life has gradually grown from a very free, natural learning style to a more structured approach. This has suited our family well, and helped us continue to love learning whilst also maintain a forward momentum. We have a rough plan, which involves Prince and Princess completing all the work on their ‘learning fun’ chart each day, preferably in the morning. This is mainly self-directed work, allowing me to get housework and other chores done as well as encouraging Prince and Princess towards autonomous learning.

This structure and set work has many benefits. Even though it isn’t always as ‘fun’ as I’d like to believe, the kids both work at it with very little complaining. It is good for us all to have some discipline and work ethic, and I wouldn’t want to drop it all together at this stage of our lives. But at the same time I never want our homeschool to be school at home. In the midst of structure, we still have space for freedom and flexibility. We have the blessing of being able to look at a sunny spring day and throw everything else aside to delight in it! And because we can, we did.

As we walked around Nymans with friends this morning, I smiled. “No one ever regrets spending ‘too much’ time with their children – only too little,” I said.

Prince’s drawing of him and me; mountains of love.

We all know that children grow up fast. Way too fast.

So sometimes it’s best to leave the piles of washing and bask in the mountains of love we share on our journey, together.

My Homeschool Day in Life with an 8 and 10 year old

Every year Simple Homeschool runs the Day in a Life series. I love how every homeschool life is different, and I am always on the lookout for great ideas to incorporate into our own daily rhythm. I also love taking part in this (even when it’s my only post of the year!) as it is an opportunity for me to reflect on how we grow and change through the years. Some changes are down to finding better ways to do things, some to changing interests and still others to the natural changes that occur as my ‘babies’ are growing up.

7:30 am

My alarm goes off. A combination of the tail end of a cold plus an emotional week has left me more tired that usual, so I hit snooze and catch an extra 15 mins of light sleep. I can hear the happy, soft voices of Prince and Princess in the background – my favourite waking up sounds. At 7:45 I wake fully, and pull open my Bible which lives next to my pillow. Personal time with God is how we all start our weekdays. I am reminded how much I love not having the school rush in the mornings, giving us the freedom to linger and fill ourselves up with the Lord for the day.

Science & snuggles!


When I’m done upstairs, I come down to find the kids already finished their Bible time and Morning High Five. They have started working; Prince is on the computer doing French on Duolingo, Princess at the table writing in her journal. I drink my water and grab a piece of fruit for breakfast, then potter around tidying the kitchen and sorting out washing. I have learnt over time that I find these kinds of job easiest in the morning, so I never worry about leaving last night’s dishes out. Work is always easiest when you find your personal rhythm, something I try to apply to Prince & Princess when I’m planning our schedule.


Wednesdays are our day for majoring on subjects we don’t get to every day, so I pull out one of our science books and we snuggle on the sofa to learn about muscles and tendons. We examine some of our own tendons and marvel at their strength. Then I do a quick search and pull up a few videos clips on the same topic for the kids to watch. Learning happens in different ways for different people, and so I like to solidify our understanding of topics through a variety of mediums.


As in previous years, I like us to have a morning walk at least most days. There is nothing like stretching our legs in nature and fresh air. It’s forecast for rain today, so we get on our wellies and waterproofs and head out to Nymans, my favourite place in all the world. As we walk we talk about nature, and how things are changing in the spring. There are plenty of puddles which provide much delightful splashing, and I feel my spirit soar as I walk through the incredible wonders of creation in the company of these two incredible children.

Strolling down the Lime avenue at Nymans


After a deliciously beautiful (and dry!) walk drinking up the spring beauty we get back in the car and head over to Little Crafter’s Pottery to pick up the ceramics we painted at a half-term family outing. This was a fabulously fun activity, and we are all delighted with the finished products. In the car we listen to our history CD, Story of the World. This is one we’ve used for a long time, and done several reviews of, but we all love it so much that the kids beg for more and I am only too happy to oblige.


Once we get home again the kids head upstairs to play while I prepare lunch: scrambled eggs and veggies, a staple quick fix at our house. When lunch is ready I set mine aside and while the kids eat I pull out the Kindle and read the next chapter of our current read-aloud. We are working through the Anne of Green Gables series and we’re in book two, Anne of Avonlea. I love the wonderful use of language, which stretches both our imagination and our vocabulary. After reading a chapter I turn on BBC iPlayer and let the kids watch the next episode of The Big Painting Challenge. The series is meant just for fun, but it includes some great art tips for my budding artists, and I know it will fire them up with enthusiasm. While they watch I eat my own lunch, check Facebook and do some more pottering around.


Predictably inspired, the kids pull out the painting supplies after the show and get to work on some masterpieces.While they delve into the world of acrylics I use the time to have a deep clean of Prince’s bedroom. Although they both tidy their own rooms regularly, every once in a while I like to do a major sort out. Feeling focused I plow through it and feel very satisfied with the end result. I always have high ambitions it will stay this way, but experience tells me it never does…


By now the room is tidy and the painters have packed up, so we return to some of our daily work – music practice. Prince has recently decided to try out the flute instead of drums, and is enjoying it so far. I help him with this, as I have been progressing well with flute myself. I’m considering doing a grade five exam this year. After flute Princess gets out the violin. She’s still doing keyboard (taught by her lovely older cousin), but has been wanting to do violin for a while as well. She is blessed to have an aunt who plays wonderfully, so we have picked up some tips and she is starting to learn the basics.


While I do my own flute practice the kids get on with some geography games I’ve set for them. Then we pull out our geography book and snuggle back on the sofa to read about the core of the earth. Prince remembers a model he made several years ago and runs to get it for a visual aide while we read. Princess colours in a card she made for one of her cousins while she listens.


Tae Kwon Do buddies

We eat early on Wednesdays, as the kids and I have Tae Kwon Do, so I work on dinner while the kids do some tidying. Daddy comes home just as I’m serving up – perfect timing! I love it when we eat together at the table.


We start getting ready for Tae Kwon Do. This is something the kids and I all enjoy very much. The three of us don our doboks and belts and we all head out the door. The kids train from 6-7 while Ben and I enjoy watching and chatting. Then my hero husband takes the kids home, where he reads them some of their bedtime read-aloud, Lord of the Rings. In the mean time I get to enjoy an hour and a half of Tae Kwon Do. I’m so thankful for a husband who helps me do the things I love.


Prince is still awake when I get home, and greets me with a big hug at the top of the stairs. He’s nearly as tall as me now, but I love that he still wants to cuddle. After kissing him goodnight, Ben and I enjoy the rest of our evening close together, chatting and watching things together.

We are in a phase of life where each of our days are different, but they have a common, comfortable rhythm. We are flexible, and fallible. Some days don’t work out as planned. But we have fun. We learn. We love. There is so much beauty in our homeschool lives. Thanks, God.

It’s so much more friendly with two

Have you ever faced a challenge alone? Gone somewhere new for the first time? Tried to learn something complicated without help? Gone on a long journey with no companion?

It's so much more friendly with two.

It’s so much more friendly with two.

Being alone can be adventurous, at times. But when you are facing something difficult, something scary, something big – being alone can be daunting.

Life has many daunting moments for our children. The world is full of amazing possibilities, but getting to them can mean facing some tough challenges first. Challenges which can seem so big to their little minds. The dark feels frightening; sharing with friends seems impossible; the new class looks impenetrable; maths work feels lonely. If we leave our children to face these challenges alone, they can become overwhelmed.

The symptoms of an overwhelmed child are varied. Maybe he cries when maths is suggested. Perhaps she throws a tantrum at bedtime. He may be shy and clingy. She might become withdrawn around peers. The important thing is that when we see symptoms of an overwhelmed child, we don’t ignore them. They are a cry for help – and aren’t we our children’s primary helpers? We need to walk through the hard things with them, not leave them to flounder.

It doesn’t always take much. Often just a friendly smile can make the challenge seem smaller. Sitting with your son while he does that hard homework.  Holding your daughter’s hand while she stands up for what is right.  Encouraging words can give strength. A hug, a wink, a squeeze of the hand – just to let them know they are not alone, that we’ve got their back. Sometimes it takes more from us; issues can be deep-rooted and need long term understanding, care and encouragement before they can be conquered.

I am convinced that A.A. Milne knew what he was talking about.  It’s so much more friendly with two.

Little secrets

I sat there reading Little Lord Fauntlery aloud. Prince and Princess were listening quietly, and all thoughts seemed to be on the story. Suddenly, Prince interrupted. ‘Mommy – it seems to me that Francis Hodgeson Burnett wanted to make Cedric like a perfect boy. But…’ his voice took a crestfallen tone, ‘nobody can be perfect.’

I was struck.

Walking and talking together - what a blessing!

Walking and talking together – what a blessing!

It was the smallest of moments, but it contained a world of meaning. It was a glimpse into the heart of my boy; a revelation of something I had never noticed before. My Prince struggled with guilt? Suddenly several tiny moments of revelation over the past few months made sense, and I had become privy to a secret. A secret that Prince himself probably couldn’t even articulate and define, but which was causing inner distress. A secret which, now I knew, I could gently and lovingly resolve.

Knowing, is the key thing. If we don’t know a problem exists, we might never solve it. Even worse, we might exacerbate it. How easy it could have been to miss this vital insight. If we never took time to read together, I would have missed it. If I always simply told him off without allowing him to discuss mistakes with me, I would have missed it. If I frequently missed our morning snuggle time, or rushed through it with no chance to chat, I would have missed it. All these little opportunities throughout the days and weeks could so easily have been wasted. Thank God they were not.

We have our children for such a short, precious time. I am so thankful for the chance to see their hurts and struggles, and minister to their particular needs. I am so thankful for time to reassure, build up, encourage when they are down. I am so privileged to spur on, inspire and watch as they pursue their passions.

All it takes is time – the gift of our time.

Layers of Education

They say that you need to see an advert at least seven times before it becomes effective. The first time you see it, you barely notice it. But with each successive exposure something builds inside of you, embedding a memory in your mind which can then be recalled at any relevant moment.

I think education might work in a similar way.

The first exposure to a new idea or concept can be overwhelming to a child. Long division, for example. (Actually, that was overwhelming for me too…) Or the significance or the bubonic plague. Or the location of key geographical cities. All new information is NEW. And however spongy our kids’ brains, it may take a few times before the neural pathways are sturdy and sure.

I used to get this a bit wrong. In my pursuit for excellence of education, I mistakenly thought that each time a child was given new information, they needed to remember it perfectly before we could go on. I would feel a failure if my five year old couldn’t recall every detail of our history story. I became frustrated when my nine year old couldn’t work out how to solve every maths problem in his book. I felt that 100% learning had to happen first time around.

But I was wrong.

Lunching on the beach at high tide (and trying to avoid seagulls!)

Lunching on the beach at high tide (and trying to avoid seagulls!)

I should have known it. Am I not exactly the same? I can read a chapter of Romans, and fifteen minutes later have no idea what I read. But if I read that chapter in the morning, talk about with my kids later, write about it the next day, re-read it the following day, mediate on it, look it up in different versions, hear a sermon on it, read a book that refers to it and watch a program that relates to a concept from it – THEN I know it.

And so it is with children. One of the oh-so-many beauties of homeschooling is the way we can engineer overlapping layers of education for our children. As they learn about the effect of the moon upon tides we can offer opportunities to reinforce this new knowledge. A trip to the beach to see tides in action; a documentary on the moon; a lesson in gravity; a game about moon phases; a conversation about forces; a library book on science; a poem about tides. As pieces of the great knowledge puzzle start connecting in their minds, the strength of learning is increased and a network of pathways are created which can continue to be traveled and built upon as learning keeps taking place.

Sometimes it’s as simple as redoing lessons or rereading chapters over a few times. Sometimes it requires a topic to be looked at through various depths – an overview, a narrowed-in focus, a detailed study. Other times it’s the combination of a variety of topics interlinking with one another, such as history and geography. Whatever it is, the one thing I have learned is that frequent, varied and passionate exposure to information creates a solid education.


'Edible Poetry' at the library!

‘Edible Poetry’ at the library!

“Homeschooling” is a bit of a misleading term. Most – if not all – homeschoolers I know do their learning in all sorts of places: woodland walks, playground trips, libraries, grocery stores, swimming pools, National Trust sites, leisure centres, doctor’s waiting rooms, friend’s houses, service stations and, most definitely, cars. In fact, one of the beauties of homeschooling is that education can happen anywhere, anytime – no restrictions!

Becoming an electric car family has re-shaped our learning a little. Every day or so we drive up the road to our local rapid charger, and top up. For many, electric cars are still a thing of the future, an inconvenience, a hassle. For us, it’s an opportunity.

A full charge takes around thirty minutes – and it’s as unavoidable as getting petrol for a regular car owner. But it’s also thirty minutes of our day which is internet free. Distraction free. Housework, email, toy and (mostly) phone free. And suddenly what looks like an inconvenience becomes an opportunity.

Our charge time has created a regularity I was struggling to find. While we charge, we read. Usually it’s our current literature read-aloud (Little Lord Fauntleroy, right now, which I LOVE) and a bit of our geography curriculum.

We also spend a fair amount of time driving to and from events, lessons and errands. This travel time is useful listening time, too. We have used it to listen to great audio books from our library (we particularly like Michael Morpurgo’s ‘An Elephant in the Garden‘), inspiring classical music, and an audio version of our history curriculum (The Story of the World). We have plans to listen to Micheal Thomas’ French course soon, and also an audio reading of the Bible. There are so many exciting and educational CDs to choose from, that travel time never needs to be wasted!

Do you do your learning in fun and unique places? Have you got any car-schooling suggestions to share?

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